Nine women in Tennessee began their baking business over 30 years ago, and although business was booming, nobody knew it existed — not even their husbands.
The Nine Nanas, as the woman call themselves, began secretly whipping up cakes three decades ago in the early morning hours and delivering to low-income areas throughout West Tennessee before going about their day.
“We give new meaning to the term drive-by,” Mary Ellen, one of the nine women behind the cake business, said. “We drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes with fans in the window. That told us that the people who live there don't have air-conditioning. Or we see that there are no lights on at night, which means there is a good chance their utilities have been turned off. Then we return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.”
Ellen said the group began making cakes more than three decades ago after they were discussing the couple — known as MaMaw and PaPaw — who raised her and three other nanas, all of whom call themselves sisters.
“MaMaw Ruth would read in the paper that someone had died and she’d send off one of her special pound cakes. She didn’t have to know the family. She just wanted to put a little smile on their faces. And we started thinking about what we could do to make a difference like that. What if we had a million dollars? How would we spend it?”
The idea to deliver cakes to underprivileged families came soon after, and their generous gestures went undetected for decades. That is, until Mary Ellen’s husband began noticing unusual cash withdrawals and extra mileage adding up on their car. He confronted her, and she revealed the group’s amazing secret.
All of the women confessed to their husbands, who quickly decided they wanted to help.
“They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of them are retired now, so sometimes they come with us on our drive-bys. In our area, all you need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so we keep the men busy jotting down numbers,” Ellen said.
With the help of their husbands, the women moved their business from a dark kitchen at 4 a.m. to a commercial space operating during normal business hours, now selling over 100 cakes per day via a website called Happiness Happens. Bringing their business to a commercial level has allowed the Nine Nanas to attempt bigger projects and contribute to their community on a larger scale.
“Not everyone is as lucky as we were to have MaMaw and PaPaw to take care of them, to fix all those things that are wrong,” she said. “So this is our way of giving back. We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. We want to make sure that happiness happens.”