Shaquille O'Neal might be in Miami, but thousands of miles away the
basketball superstar still craves sweet potato pies from Colton.
That's right, Colton. Shaq is a regular patron of Mommie Helen's Bakery,
a family-run confectionary that's become a favorite treat of both regular
folks and the famous.
"I tell Shaq you might be in Florida, but you can't forget the taste of
Mommie Helen's sweet potato pies," said owner Dorothy Pryor Rose, 61, of
The NBA superstar has the pies shipped via next-day delivery to his South
Beach abode on holidays or "whenever he gets a craving," Rose said. And he
doesn't just order one. Typically, he orders three to four, plus at least
one peach cobbler, the favorite of his wife, Shaunie Nelson.
"She likes to pick at the crust," Rose said.
It all started when Rose called Shaq's people to try and get her pies
into one of his events. She heard Shaq loved sweet potato pies and was
confident she made the best. It took some swaying, but it paid off.
Shaq was sold. In 2002, every guest at his wedding went home with a mini
peach cobbler from the Colton bakery. Word of the mouth-watering homemade
goodness spread. The bakery now whips up cobblers, cakes and pies to a
growing list of celebrities, including actress Angela Bassett; actor Tom
Arnold; former model Kathy Ireland; rap artists Master P, Snoop Dogg and Dr.
Dre; NFL legend Marcus Allen; and NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy -- to name
"You just never know who will come in," Rose said.
Typically, the celebrities send runners, but a surprise personal stop
isn't unusual. The giveaway is typically the car, said Rose's nephew Michael
Watson, who works at the bakery.
"It's something else," Watson said. "They pull up in Corvettes and
Dorothy Pryor Rose, owner of Mommie Helen's Bakery, oversees the baking
in the kitchen to ensure its quality. Shaq, Angela Basset and Magic
Johnson are among the celebrities who are fans of Mommie Helen's pies.
When it comes to sports icons,
Rose has trouble.
"Sometimes I just have to ask, 'Who are you?' " she said. "Usually I can
tell they're famous because they're all tall, but I have no clue who they
Rose recalls the time she gave Anthony Jerome "Spud" Webb a football to
sign. Bad choice. Wrong sport.
At 5 foot 7 inches, Webb is one of the shortest players in NBA history.
"He gave me a hard time for a while, but now we're friends," Rose said.
"He looked too short to play basketball."
So what is it about Mommie Helen's that has celebrities and their runners
MapQuesting Colton and bakery workers churning out 300-plus pies a day?
The secret is simple, Rose said.
"Everyone tries to overdo it, but we do it the simple way," Rose said.
"Mom's way. We use the best ingredients. Real butter, real flour and real
sugar. My mom always said use the best and don't slight anyone."
For Corona resident Patricia Henry, 55, the sweet potato pie is worth
fighting traffic on Highway 91.
"It's so flavorful," she said. "It tastes homemade."
The bakery's recipes come from Rose's mom, Helen Williams, who died in
March at 90 years old.
"Mom always said to use a little of this and a little of that," Rose
said. "It was never a teaspoon or a tablespoon."
Rose and her two sisters opened the bakery in 2000. The three had been
baking desserts for friends and co-workers out of their homes and quickly
realized the orders for the sweet delights were enough to start a business.
The demand hasn't slowed, Rose said. Customers even show up from Nevada
and Arizona filling coolers with pies, she said.
She's seen others in pajamas, waving money in the air after business
hours for a chance at a slice. Most of the time, Rose will unlock the door.
On holidays, the lines spill out the door. The bakery enforces a two-pie
limit to keep up with orders.
Business is good, nearly too good. It can be overwhelming, especially
since during the past two years, Rose has lost both her mom and the two
sisters she started the business with.
"My mom's left a legacy in Colton," Rose said. "When a customer tells you
how good your dessert is, it gives you batteries to run the next day."
Colton Is Home
The bakery recently nearly tripled its space with a move to a new
location across the street from its previous spot. The shop's new $35,000
rotating oven can churn out 163 pies in an hour and a half.
"A bigger oven means more pies," Rose said.
The previous oven held only 48.
"We are so lucky to have this bigger location, but we are already
outgrowing it," Rose said.
With large-company orders and contracts with restaurants, Rose is worried
that the success of the business could be its enemy.
"I just don't want it to overtake me," she said.
She's had offers to franchise, but she doesn't want growth to sacrifice
what made Mommie Helen's famous.
"I want the ingredients and consistency to remain the same," she said.
Rose said it's inevitable the business will grow, with a location in the
Los Angeles area likely. But one thing is certain: She won't close the
"I am not going anywhere," she said. "I put Colton on the map. The
superstars are now coming here."
Colton recently said thank you to the bakery with the Mayor's Choice
"Some of the bakery's customers would not have otherwise known about
Colton," said Candace Cassel, the city's director of economic development.
"It gives Colton exposure."
Customer Larry Monk, 61, of Highland, makes sense of it like this:
"Christ was born in a little town called Bethlehem and this little bakery in
Colton is attracting stars."
But Rose doesn't let it go to her head.
"I love Colton," she said. "I would never leave. I'm spoiled by Colton."
Reach reporter Amanda Strindberg at 951-368-9667 or
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