A family-owned business
Family businesses often hold stories of highs and lows, but somehow always end with the family and business on better terms. M’Dear Bakery and Bistro at 7717 S Western Ave is no different as it’s a family-owned business and community staple in South LA.
It is owned and operated by Carrie Reese and her two daughters Tiffany and Marissa who have operated the in-person restaurant for 20 of the past 30 years after formerly serving as a bakery and catering service.
“In 1991, we started M’Dears desserts and sold peach cobbler and sweet potato pies at local festivals and events like the Long Beach jazz festival and Long Beach blues festival among others,” Reese said, when explaining the origins of M’Dears desserts. “We got to build a name and reputation for the brand before we got a brick-and-mortar place.”
Over time, Reese and the business started picking up steam, and she had to acquire a building in 2001, to store, bake, and maintain at the level she envisioned. While doing this, Reese noticed there might be a bigger picture than the one she started with. “I never planned on opening it as a restaurant, only a bakery and catering facility. The longer we were in the community, and the more people started to notice us from the smell of our food cooking, they started knocking on our door asking if we were open, and we had to let them know we weren’t.” Reese said as she detailed how she sold her first plate of food after a neighbor shouted from her window that her food smelled good and was eager to purchase some chicken while she was preparing for an event.
Reese learned how to bake and cook soul food from her mother-in-law in Shreveport, La.
“I fell in love with her cooking, and I was in the kitchen watching her cook and learning because I got married at 19 and didn’t know much about cooking soul food,” Reese said as she stated she knew how to cook Armenian food but wasn’t the biggest fan of it. “My mother-in-law started teaching me (soul food), and around the same time, we started to do festivals, but after the first time, she realized she couldn’t handle the demand for her peach cobbler, and that’s when I learned how to make it myself.”
Reese opened the restaurant to the public in 2001, and while things got off to a decent start, it wasn’t until the fifth year that things took a turn.
“Most businesses don’t see a profit until the fifth year mark. Our fifth year was in 2007 when the recession hit, and from 2008 to 2010, I had no nails left after chewing my nails down because I was losing everything,” Reese said, describing her first few years of the business.
Fast forward a few years and M’Dears would be featured on an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s show “24 Hours to Hell and Back,” but it almost didn’t air because Reese was ready to back out of it after not receiving clear answers to her questions. “Throughout the whole process, they wouldn’t tell us who the celebrity guest chef was, and there was a point I told them I do not want to do this because I know what your format is, you come in and try to make the owner look stupid, and I’m not down with that,” Reese said as she described the lead up to the reveal. “I told them; it better not be no White boy coming in and telling me how to cook soul food. I was hoping for Marcus Samuelsson, but once I knew it was Ramsay, I knew there were going to be issues.”
While Reese did have disagreements about the TV show and how things were done, and what was shown on tv, she is appreciative of the show and the success it brought not only to M’Dears but to the surrounding businesses in the community.
“No matter how much I didn’t like or was uncomfortable with certain stuff, it brought so much money to the community as they used Bethals parking lot for the filming crew vehicles, they rented some of the vacant buildings in the area for the crew, the burger stand across the street was serving customers nonstop, and it also brought a lot of notoriety,” Reese said as she was thankful for the opportunity, but felt like the show’s production team “dropped the ball” when it came to the grand reopening as it didn’t feature any of her regular customers, only the paid actors the show hired. After the airing of the show, M’Dear’s revenue went up by a reported $20,000 in 2019, and they saw an increase in sales every time the show aired on tv.
The opportunities didn’t stop there for Reese and M’Dears. They were featured this year in the Pepsi x Dig In campaign hosted by the NFL and Los Angeles Rams. This campaign was an initiative to celebrate Black-owned restaurants in L.A. and showcase SoCal soul food.
Reese also has grandkids, and she’s passing her culinary and baking skills to them to continue the family love of fine cuisine.
“My grandsons are very interested in cooking, and it is a joy to have them in the kitchen. They enjoy baking beignets for the Mardi season,” Reese said as she talked about the future of the restaurant. “We have also started wholesaling to other restaurants like Fishbone and Coop & Fire in Gardena.”
Reese and M’Dears are community staples and hope to continue providing to the community and setting the example and standard for restaurants around and restaurants coming up.