Whether it’s a sweet confection or a wholesome meal, Therice Denby is bringing a lot of the South to the Northeast. And she has a lot of fans.
So you want something special, do you? You want a cake shaped like a car or a cake that looks like a baby crawling into a diaper bag?
That’s fine with Therice Denby. Just give her a couple weeks’ notice, and when you stop by Denby’s Sweet Sensations, her new restaurant and sweet shop on Frankford Avenue, to pick up that special order, you might want to sample some soul food, too.
Good old-fashioned Southern cooking is what Denby is serving up as well as cakes, cinnamon buns and pastries. A business that is both soul food restaurant and bakery might seem unusual, but it’s fairly common in the South, Denby said.
And Denby’s is definitely a business with a Southern accent. “My parents are Southern,” she said, explaining that her mother’s from Alabama and her father’s from North Carolina, and they’re both great cooks.
“I was raised in the North, but with a Southern flair,” she said.
Besides adhering to traditional fare like barbecued chicken, collard greens, corn bread, grits, biscuits and waffles, Denby is big on using her imagination, especially when it comes to desserts.
“I’ll dream about a dessert and I’ll come in here and make it,” she said during an interview at Denby’s Sweet Sensations, 4428 Frankford Ave.
If that dream involves sweet potatoes, so much the better. “I can make anything good with a sweet potato,” she said.
Denby’s features sweet potato pancakes and sweet potato fries, too.
Denby’s Sweet Sensations is a new business on Frankford Avenue; it opened in May. It is, however, not a completely new enterprise. Last year, Denby
was open in Berlin, N.J. The restaurant’s building was in bad shape and had no heat in the winter, so she decided to make a move.
Finding a spot in Frankford “is a blessing,” she said, since she and her family live in Philadelphia.
That family makes up the staff at Denby’s restaurant. The biggest help and supporter is her husband, Steven Denby II, and they’ve been together 23 years.
“He’s supported my dream,” Therice said.
Their two sons, Steven III and Jalen, as well as niece Ayanna Jackson, also work at the eatery.
Family is key to Denby’s outlook.
“This is a family-oriented business with down-home Southern hospitality,” she said. “When people come in here, they should feel at home.”
A customer who has a craving for a dessert just like mama used to make may request it, and Denby will whip it up.
“Just give me forty-eight hours,” she said.
Giving the customers what they want is Denby’s business policy. “Just because it’s not on the menu doesn’t mean you can’t have it,” she said.
For example, the restaurant is not a vegetarian eatery, but some customers are vegetarians. She always tries to accommodate them, she said.
So far, the busiest days of the week are Thursdays and Fridays — Friday, especially, since it is potato salad and catfish day at Denby’s.
Catfish — or whiting — is fried in corn meal, Denby said. There are no special ingredients, but the fish is served with a spicy sauce.
The potato salad is from a family recipe. “I make it like my mom used to make it,” she said.
But enough about entrees and sides. What about those specialty cakes?
You’ve seen those cool cakes in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the Food Network. Well, you can see them in Frankford, too.
But they have to be special-ordered, Denby said. “We make everything fresh. We don’t have cakes just sitting around,” she said.
Denby said she needs a couple of weeks to make the preparations and bake specially designed cakes. Other orders — birthday cakes or graduation cake — require just 48 hours.
This isn’t the first Northeast Times article about Denby. Six years ago she was featured because she had won recognition for developing a business model for her restaurant. In 2005, Denby was one of three female entrepreneurs named winners of the Enterprising Woman Business Plan Competition sponsored by National Penn Bank. She won first prize in the restaurant category.
Part of that business model was purveying sugar-free treats. In its current incarnation, Denby’s asks customers to order sugar-free items two days in advance. Those are not kept on hand, Denby said, because they have a short shelf life.
It’s not that any of Denby’s desserts even get a chance to get old — or even get sold. The Denbys’ kids are big fans.
“They try to hide the last piece of cheesecake so nobody gets it,” Steven Denby said. ••
Reporter John Loftus may be reached at 215-354-3110 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org