This is an easy one, but guess which ingredient makes the world go round at Sweet Potato Shop? This online startup is dedicated to sweet potato pies, sweet potato muffins and sweet potato ice cream.
Founder Duke Vinson is a longtime Dallas musician who performs under the moniker Ducado Vega. Like so many bakery tales, his began with something he baked at home that garnered an overwhelming grass-roots response.
"I've been doing sweet potato pies for a while, and it got out of hand — in a good way — especially during the holidays," he says. "People were like, 'I need your pie,' and I got creamed. I'm busy with my music career, but I realized I need to do something with this."
His entry into the baking world came out of a nostalgia for his family recipe.
"Sweet potato pie gotta be down home," says Sweet Potato Shop founder Duke Vinson. "It gotta taste like something grandma would do."
"Being from the South, I love sweet potato pie," he says. "I called my mom one holiday a few years back. I said, 'You’re not here, and I need to have sweet potato pie.'
"She sent me a recipe, and I started tweaking. It had to be right. I tweaked until I came up with what for me is the perfect pie."
Vinson makes sweet potato pie in six flavors, including plain, lemon zest, orange zest, pecan, lemon glaze and chocolate glaze. He also makes a mini-line of chess pie in three flavors, which he created to accommodate the request of a restaurant that buys his sweet potato pies. The chess pies come in plain, lemon zest and pecan.
He does some of his baking in a co-op arrangement with the Tortilla Factory on 18th Street in Plano, in the old Aparicio's space, which is open for breakfast and lunch from 6 am to 2 pm. Customers can place orders online (or by calling 972-885-7437) and pick up the pies there, but Vinson also delivers.
More recently, he's developed a new sweet potato product: ice cream.
"That was one of my big ideas," he says. "The base is vanilla, but I do it a special way. I take my mix for a regular sweet potato pie and I juice it, then add that to my ice cream mix. It creates a smooth texture and it has the same flavor as my sweet potato pies. Oh my gosh, it is amazing."
Sweet potato pies have a similar flavor profile to pumpkin pies, but there are variations in flavor and texture. "I know a lot of people who were big pumpkin pie fans, who said, 'I don't do sweet potato pie.' I've converted 99 percent of them," he says.
"Sweet potato pie gotta be down home. That's the best thing I can say. It gotta taste like something grandma would do. If it gives me the feeling of 'grandma,' it's right."
As Ducado Vega, Vinson has performed at American Airlines Center and has had a few headlining shows at House of Blues. "People around me were saying, 'You play guitar. You don't make pies.' But after they try my pie, they say, 'This is damn good.'
"I'm still very much into the music thing. Pies and music — that's my life now."