Food and beverage industry veteran Jessica Davenport is in the spotlight, realizing her deferred dream for Sugar Ray’s Sweet Shop is still a sweet one.
It was late 2016 when Davenport and a friend planned to open a speakeasy in downtown Jackson, part of the Capitol Art Lofts development in the former Moise & Sam Cohen Brothers building.
Davenport thought a candy store would be a fun and opposite sort of operation as the “front.”
With help from friend and designer Mary Sanders Ferriss, Davenport began the mad dash of setting up before Valentine’s Day 2017.
“I honestly had no idea what was involved,” she said. “I just wanted people to feel special and have fun.”
The reception was incredible, but still, Davenport was anxious and didn’t put her name on it. Instead, it operated under the moniker of J & J Hospitality with collaborators and designers taking center stage.
“We didn’t think it would be a big deal. But it blew up. I didn’t want preconceived notions from the public [about who was behind it]. Because, at that time, Black businesses weren’t being supported like they could have been. I wanted people to support it just because it was a really good idea and product.”
Partnerships and collaborations sustained the business in a part of downtown where little foot traffic existed. Road construction outside her front door didn’t help. And, when her business partnership didn’t work out, Davenport put the candy store, the speakeasy and other related projects on the back burner.
“It was so traumatic and devastating,” she explained. “I felt in the moment that I had failed. It was really difficult.”
Along came 2020 and COVID-19. Davenport was anxious.
A friend who had been making cinnamon rolls, Ebony Jones, suggested Davenport try to make them, too, as a sort of therapy.
“I never thought I would be a baker because I don’t like to follow the rules,” she laughed. “But creating boundaries allowed my creativity.”
Davenport said she got the confections right, right out of the gate, the only reason she’s still making them. Friends suggested branding them Sugar Ray’s. And thus, a new chapter begins for the brand.
“They’re gourmet, and they’re awesome. I literally have not stopped making them since March of 2020.”
Shop Sugar Ray’s on Instagram.