On a cozy corner in Omaha’s Joslyn Castle neighborhood, customers can smell the inviting aroma of sugar and butter drift through the air as they arrive at Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop.
Since 2016, the boutique bakery’s been owned and operated by Katina Talley, a food science guru with a passion for baking.
Talley comes from a food-centered family, so it’s no surprise that she found comfort in the art of sweets and poured her heart into her original recipes with from-scratch ingredients.
Armed with a food science and technology degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, she joined the ConAgra Foods team. There, she worked to develop popular products such as Hunt’s Tomatoes and Peter Pan Peanut Butter in bakery lab. However, after a few years, Talley decided to strike out on her own.
“I had the realization that I was tired of trying to convince people to invest in my ideas,” Talley says. “I believed enough in myself that I wanted to be the one calling the shots.”
The stars aligned, and the timing worked in Talley’s favor. A friend shared that the commercial bakery space, once known as Sweet Magnolias, was available for purchase.
“It was a whirlwind after that,” Talley says. “I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the consequences. It was kind of just a leap of faith. I took over in 2016 and put together a menu pretty quickly.”
Before Talley took over, the Sweet Magnolias name carried a reputation for the sweet scones that went with it. Talley never set out to make scones but chose to continue the tradition with a recipe her family raved about and built them into what they are today.
“They’re truly delicious,” Talley says. “I think the scones that Sweet Mags puts out are different from any other scones on the market. I think sometimes calling them scones is a little bit of a lie. They’re so soft and pillowy. They are more like a muffin top, but they’re their own little thing, and that’s what makes them really special.”
Regulars at Sweet Magnolias can recognize the “Get Sconed” tile the second they walk through the signature purple door, but scones aren’t the only tasty treat devoured at the bakeshop. Fan favorites feature oatmeal cream pie and the malted milk chocolate Oreo cookie.
Most customers wouldn’t know that Talley’s original oatmeal cream pie originated from a Betty Crocker recipe as a little girl. What began as a 7 or 8-year-old learning from the famous red book, she slowly tweaked the current recipe. The oatmeal cookie isn’t the only recipe Talley is proud to call her own.
“The malted milk chocolate Oreo cookie is my personal favorite,” Talley says. “I refer to it as my greatest accomplishment. It’s been named the best cookie in Nebraska by a couple of different outlets. Between that and word of mouth it’s picking up traction. When people come in and they ask, what should I get? I always encourage them to try the Oreo cookie because I think it is the best recipe I have put together so far.”
Sweet Magnolias is one of the few bakeries in Omaha that offers more inclusive options. Talley began by dabbling in dairy-free vegan orders by request or custom orders, but it quickly took off when Amateur Coffee moved next door.
“I’ve always felt passionate about being inclusive and creating a place for everybody,” Talley says. “It’s skyrocketed from there. It’s been a fun challenge for me as a scientist to try to create products that I’m proud of, that are delicious and hit all the attributes you’re looking for in a traditional baked good. I feel good doing it because who doesn’t want to be able to walk into a bakery and find something they can indulge in.”
Now, most of Sweet Magnolias wholesale business is vegan options. The boutique bakery caters to various partners in the metro area. This includes local coffee shops such as Hay Jay, Amateur, Rally, Stir Coffee Bar and the Commons.
With Sweet Magnolias reach extending to local businesses throughout Omaha, it made sense for the bakery to explore its own internal expansion by opening a second store in the Millwork Commons neighborhood downtown.
“People ask all the time if we would consider moving and the answer’s just no,” Talley says. “We love it in Joslyn Castle, but we’re opening a second store downtown, and I would consider opening stores in the future too. I like being in a community that has history and is diverse. It really fits the business that we have. Joslyn Castle will always be home.”