Where there’s a whisk, there’s a way, and in 1959, Frank and Mabel Rhodes created their own legacy that continues to delight our taste buds today. The Rhodes traveled across the Southeast setting up and operating bakeries and finally decided to settle down to raise their family in Tifton, Ga. To make a living, they continued their craft and opened up Mi-Lady Bakery. The bakery is still in the family three generations later and is currently operated by Kayla and Kyle Rhodes.
The Rhodes haven’t slacked in the least in keeping the bakery fully in the family, and that, perhaps, is the soul of their success.
“We are an owner/operator establishment meaning either myself, Kayla, or my dad, Chip, are here at all times,” Kyle Rhodes says. “We don’t rely on someone to handle our business. We care so much that it’s our purpose to stay involved and on top of our day-to-day actions.”
The Rhodes’ daily duties aren’t quite as quaint as they may seem. The makers of what many customers consider “the best doughnuts in the world” start working around 2 a.m. every day. Everything in the bakery is made from scratch. They begin by preparing doughnuts and pastries, followed by cookies and other specialty items such as cake, bread, and other miscellaneous ingredients like chocolate, caramel, butter cream, and cream cheese icings. Once the bakery goods are completed, they move on to slicing their meats and veggies for the afternoon. Hint: You have to save room for lunch.
The holidays keep the Rhodes busier than normal. The demand sharply increases for cookies and other baked goods. Office parties, family gatherings, and the weather are to blame for the increase.
“I don’t exactly know what it is, but when it’s cold or wet outside, you can almost count on selling more products, especially doughnuts and holiday cookies,” Kyle says.
Even after decades in the business, the Rhodes family doesn’t take a single compliment for granted. They are proud of their tradition. Customers are scattered all over and share stories with the Rhodes about their love for Mi-Lady that began in their own childhood. There isn’t a place the bakery won’t spread the sweet goodness. In fact, they have even shipped overseas to recipients serving in the military.
“Customers would come in and ask us to package them securely so they could ship them out,” Kyle says. “We asked how they were upon arrival, and they always responded that they were as great as usual; just a few extra crumbs since the trip was a little bumpy.”
To make you fall in love with the tradition of Mi-Lady a bite more, they do not sell day-old treats. Everything that touches your taste buds is less than 24 hours old. Always. But what does the bakery do with the products that didn’t make it in the bellies of hungry customers? They donate them to the local soup kitchen.
“I would rather see these products go to someone in need than in the trash,” Kyle says. “This way, we don’t sell any day-old products, and not many people can argue giving to a good cause.”
If you haven’t made your way to Mi-Lady Bakery yet, now is the time to try out some of their creative, unique and delicious treats. You’ll likely find yourself a regular customer, and you can bank on your favorite treat tasting just as good for generations to come.
“We haven’t changed or altered any formulas in order to keep things just the way were over 50 years ago,” Kyle says. “Why change if people keep coming back for more, right?”
How does Kyle work around delectable sweets all day and not put on extra pounds? According to him, it’s really not that hard. “Personally, after being around all of these wonderful confections for so many years, I have almost become immune to the temptation. I won’t say I don’t swipe a doughnut or cookie every now and again, but I would rather have a savory meal. But that’s just me.”
As I’ve mentioned in previous issues, running is my biggest hobby. In fact, it’s my only real hobby. I’m obsessed. Living in Tifton, I begin my runs anywhere from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Forget pace. Forget terrain. The hardest miles for me to log are those in downtown Tifton early in the morning, because the glorious aroma from Mi-Lady Bakery gearing up for their day hits me like a train. The scent will make even the most dedicated fitness junkies consider retiring their sport and beginning each day with a plate of their famous doughnuts instead.
Downtown Tifton, Ga.
By Sarah Turner
Photography by Micki K Photography