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5 Star Stories: Meet the family behind Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 10:38 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn (WMC) - Tuesday marks the start of Black History Month and we’re celebrating a family in Memphis who has a buttery family recipe that dates back decades.

You can smell 301 Jefferson in downtown Memphis before you even get through the door.

Inside are 16 flavors of cookies, butter cookie crust pies, and banana pudding. The owners of Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies, Pamela and Maurice Hill, bought the building in 2021.

“We got this building in February. It took nine months to get it up to being able to operate in. Pamela, my wife, said it’s like having a baby,” said Maurice Hill.

With double the space, the Hill’s are now able to bake and package cookies for more than 70 grocery stores. Business is brisk now, but it wasn’t that way when they first started back in 1999.

“When we put our sign up on Airways, they said, ‘A cookie store? It ain’t going to last.’ And so we were determined. We were determined,” Maurice Hill said.

“So, we just kept going and he would always tell me, ‘well, whatever you do, don’t stop baking cookies,’” Pamela Hill recalled.

Maurice Hill’s grandmother gave him the butter cookie recipe and the inspiration.

“Harvalee Sugars, she used to play this song when we was coming up, ‘reach for the moon, you might land upon a star. You gonna make it, I know that you are.’ And we used to get tired of her playing that song. She would say, ‘come and listen to this song. I didn’t know she was inspiring us. She was planting a seed,” Maurice Hill said.

A seed the Hill’s have grown into a nationally known business, all from scratch, weathering the ups and downs of entrepreneurship one cookie at a time.

The name Makeda is that of the Hills’ 6-year-old niece. She was a patient at St. Jude children’s Research Hospital who died of leukemia in 1997.

“And she told my wife and her mother, she said, ‘why these folks bringing me all these presents and gifts?’ She said, ‘they think I’m going to die don’t they?’ But she said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, but don’t tell ‘em.’ And for those words to come out of her mouth that she’s not going anywhere. and here we are,” Maurice Hill said.

Then, there’s last year’s murder of rapper Young Dolph in their Airways shop after he stopped to buy cookies at one of his favorite neighborhood businesses.

“We had our grand opening on the sixth of November and then the tragedy hit on the 17th of November,” said Maurice Hill.

The couple was able to continue baking in their downtown shop and an online movement helped them stay afloat after their main location became a crime scene and eventually a memorial.

They did not stop, Maurice Hill said. “They still haven’t stopped,” Pamela Hill added.

“And you know, a lot of people around the world want to taste Makeda’s because he loved our cookies. That’s just the kind of person he was. He was just that kind of kind-hearted person, just like that,” Maurice said about Young Dolph.

When asked about reopening the Airways location, “well, we’re not 100% sure,” Pamela Hill said.

“But that’s the goal, though, to eventually open back up because, like I said, been there for so long and the community, they loved us,” added Maurice Hill.

“So, we’re praying about it and seeking guidance to know what to do because I know, I believe that he would have wanted us to reopen it and stand strong, and keep making those cookies that he loved,” said Maurice Hill.

Two of the Hills’ children and several other relatives also work for the business. They hope one day their grandchildren will join them as well!

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