Veneé Pawlowski, 38, Patissier
It took postpartum cravings and a global pandemic for Veneé to formally launch her own bakery business.
She’s taking this time, this weird COVID-19, work-from-home time to create, plan, and most of all, feed the growing number of fans of her enterprise, Black Magnolia Southern Patisserie.
“My favorite thing about baking is…people’s response when they taste something. To see their faces light up is wonderful,” Veneé says.
Veneé moved to Greensboro when she was 11. As a child, she learned to bake with her grandmother. She still remembers her first, unfortunate Mississippi mud pie.
“It was so absolutely horrible, sugary,” she says.
She studied at GTCC’s culinary program, learning traditional baking and technique. But really grew her skills baking in kitchens across Greensboro.
She credits baker Julien Vicard with mentoring her and nurturing her skills. He recruited her away from another bakery to help make pastry at his Blue Margarita.
You might have eaten her pies, cakes, and pastries if you ate baked goods from the White and Wood, Greensboro Country Club, Loaf, Maxie B’s, or Table 16.
It was at the Table 16 that she was tasked with creating the whole dessert menu, including the nostalgia-filled s’mores bread pudding. It was honored as Triad’s Best Dessert Menu in 2016.
That dessert is an example of something Veneé loves to do – take beloved flavors and elevate them. Mix southern style with French technique. All elements scratch made with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
In 2018, Veneé created a Facebook page for Black Magnolia before it was really a business. The page acted as a space to show off work she was doing for restaurants as well as specialty cakes and pastries she made out of her home in addition to working a regular job.
“I was doing custom cakes on the side. I enjoy making cakes,” she says. She designed sleek and modern wedding cakes with sumptuous buttercream frosting and custom occasion cakes with molded fondant.
“I was an art student, so I had fun with it.”
Veneé made French classics – flavored tarts with flaky crusts, light and airy choux in the form of profiteroles, crème puffs, and eclairs, and crowd favorite scones and macarons. She created chocolate truffles and creative cupcakes in flavors like cannoli, pineapple upside down, and churros rellenos.
It’s where Black Magnolia first began to take shape.
When the pandemic hit, Veneé was a few weeks postpartum with her youngest child, Amelia, and on a break from her restaurant job and her baking business. Ever wary of the pandemic – with a baby in the house – she wasn’t in a rush to get back to work.
“With covid, I wouldn’t have been comfortable working in a public space,” Veneé says.
Meanwhile, her postpartum cravings were still hitting hard. She never had much of a sweet tooth before becoming pregnant.
“After Amelia, I was like, ‘I need sugar now.’ I just wanted a damn cinnamon roll. It’s warm carbs and cinnamon and gooey,”’ she says.
The new downtown restaurant Machete was selling takeout weekend brunch cinnamon rolls. But when Veneé couldn’t manage to get an order of them before they sold out, she had an epiphany.
She knew how to bake. She could do it herself.
With her first batch, a friend wanted her own order. Black Magnolia reopened with “Cinnamon Roll Saturday.”
Veneé baked for about 20 hours straight that first weekend. Customers swung by for contactless pick up at the family’s front porch.
“Once I got started, there was such a huge response from Greensboro,” she says.
Business has been crazy ever since. While raising an infant, Veneé has transformed the kitchen and other rooms in her 100-year-old home into a commercial baking operation. She’s got a bevy of folding tables to add more counter space for recipe prep and dough rising and all the other steps of her creations. She’s making everything by hand.
Black Magnolia offers a few favorites every week: a cake, a bread pudding, maybe a tart. She rolled out trays of banana pudding, sumptuous tomato pies, her cannoli cake. She switched the flavors as they seasons changed, from classic cinnamon rolls flavors to maple blueberry to eggnog cinnamon to banoffee pecan (with caramel and bananas, like the pie by the same name.) That last recipe was a contender in the General Mills Neighborhood2Nation recipe contest.
“Out of everything I’ve made, probably the buttermilk pie was my hands down favorite,” she say. “It had a honey cornmeal crust and vanilla bean buttermilk filing. It was simple but it was really, really good’
It was her husband’s favorite too. “I am required to make an extra one for him.”
By the summer it was clear: Veneé wasn’t going back to working for someone else. She was going to work on her getting her bakery. They’ve done a few pop-ups at local events while continuing to sell goods from the home-based business.
The lingering pandemic has given her plenty of time to hone her signature recipes while looking for the perfect storefront location. It hasn’t emerged just yet. Instead, they are working on other options, like partnerships with businesses and possibly a place at the Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market.
“It’s changing so fast,” she says. “We think this might be the best for us right now to grow our family and grow our business.”