Memphian to Meet: Kat Gordon

Posted on March 1, 2014


By Julia Fawal

Photo_2_(2)Walking into Muddy’s Bake Shop is like escaping into a fairy tale. Paper flowers and sparkling white lights hang across the ceiling, various jewel-toned colors fill the walls, and the entire place smells like it could evaporate anyone’s problems and potentially bring world peace – not to mention the rows of cookies, cakes, puddings, pies and cupcakes that fill the display case. In fact, it feels like a scene from Hansel and Gretel, only instead of a witch inside the sugar-coated house, there is the most adorable owner imaginable.

Kat Gordon, founder of Muddy’s, is everything one would imagine a bakery owner to be. Sporting a dress with cherries on it and purple glasses resting on a messy bun of hair, she oozes genuine charm. A smile is constantly on her face, and she even waves to various customers throughout the interview.

“I wanted something really homey, welcoming, and friendly,” she said, talking about her vision of Muddy’s before she founded it in 2008. “If sweet goods were outlawed, I’d find something else, anything else, just to make people happy.”

Owning a bakery was never Gordon’s dream. Baking was a hobby, something she did at night to make treats for others. Before graduating college, she emailed friends and family asking what they imagined her doing, and many wrote back saying that they could see her running a little bookshop or bakery. “So I was like, ‘oh great, you all want me to be poor. Thank you!” she laughed. Instead, she decided to go into real estate, but she quickly learned that it was not the right fit. “I was really bad at it!” she said. “I would constantly sit down with people and say to them, ‘I don’t have a lot of experience in this part of town, but you know who you need to talk to? This other real estate agent.’ I was going to starve to death!”

At that point, Gordon sat down to make a “Needs/Wants” list. She discovered that she did not truly need or want as much as she initially thought. “It really freed me up to take a big risk and do the job everyone saw me doing that I immediately dismissed,” she said. “I definitely don’t live this crazy lifestyle, but I’m so much happier and more fulfilled than if I had done something that pays more.”

Starting Muddy’s was a big risk for the English and Art History major. It was 2008 – a rough time for food establishments – and Gordon had not attended Business or Culinary School.

“I was 26-years-old and had no idea what I was doing, so there was a very good chance that this was going to fail in its first two years,” she said.

The confidence to go through with the venture came, in part, from the skills she learned from her grade school, St. Mary’s, an all-girls school in East Memphis. “St. Mary’s really works on strengthening leadership skills and helping each girl reach her full potential. They taught me that if something fails, have a good cry about it, pick yourself up and try something else,” she said.

Family also serves as a strong support system. Her mother, father, and hetero life companion’s families are all based in Memphis, and her parents gave her a lot of responsibility growing up. They expected their children to contribute to the house, and this led to Gordon being fearless in the kitchen. “It’s flour and butter,” she said. “If you had a great idea and it just didn’t work, scrap it and start over. That mindset definitely developed into being able to do something like [Muddy’s].”

Once the idea was set, location was not a question. She could not imagine opening Muddy’s anywhere else but Memphis. Gordon’s animated voice reaches the next level whenever she talks about “her baby,” as she refers to the city. It is clear she adores Memphis and is proud to call it her home. Like many others growing up, her plan was initially to get out of her hometown. At the time, there was a prevalent feeling that Memphis was going downhill, and everyone with an education needed to get out. Now she knows that staying was the right choice for her.

“I had this moment when I thought, ‘This is my city. Am I really going to abandon it?’ I felt like it was up to the people who do have an education and those opportunities to stay and fight it out,” she said. “Instead of jumping out of a sinking boat, start bailing water and start patching holes, and it can still be something really wonderful.”

Giving back to her community is a huge motivator for Gordon. She strongly believes that if you were born with opportunity, you should spread some of it around. For that reason, she started the Muddy’s Community Outreach program. As part of their 40-hour work week, Muddy’s staff can spend an hour and a half each week volunteering with one of Muddy’s community partners. To Gordon’s surprise, over half the staff signed up to participate during the very first enrollment period. “It was like, ‘oh, my gosh, this is so great! Oh, my gosh, we did not budget for all of these people!’” she said. Instead of dampening employees’ spirits, she committed to making it work. “Rather than going, ‘oh well, this isn’t going to work. Moving on,’ we sat down and figured out a way to do it.”

Since she does not have a lot of experience and is “reinventing the wheel” with Muddy’s, as she says, there are some things that take her years to figure out; however, she also feels like there is more room to think creatively. Gordon did not think too much about what she should or shouldn’t do to make her business stand out; she simply built a place that she, as a customer, would want to go to.

“We don’t know better. We are just way too ignorant,” she laughed. “But our ignorance allows us to do some pretty cool things.”

One of the “cool things” she is referring to is the new Muddy’s Midtown expansion. Gordon gets absolutely giddy again when talking about it. Set to open summer 2014, Muddy’s Midtown will make the already booming Overton Square/Cooper-Young area a little sweeter. Though the Midtown location will feature some stand-out favorites from the original, the two spots will not be identical.

“People with multiple children don’t want them all to be exactly the same – that’s not possible, anyway, but that’s the idea we’re going for,” she says. The Midtown location is in an old house, and it will feature full service coffee, an outdoor patio and a quiet, library-esque room for people to comfortably hang out. Like the original Sanderlin location, Midtown Muddy’s will also be open late.

Muddy’s gets its name from Gordon’s grandmother, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind the cash register. “She was a sassy broad,” Gordon jokes. “She was the kind of person who would go through family photos and cut her face out if she didn’t like her picture.” Beyond that, despite balancing the responsibilities of taking care of her family and working a full-time job, Muddy always made it a point to cook for friends and family. “She felt like that was her way of making somebody’s day better. I needed something that reminds me constantly of why we’re doing this, so I knew I needed to name this place for Muddy.”

Gordon clearly embodies the same compassionate spirit as her grandmother. She strives to make sure every customer has an outstanding experience, whether they are buying one cookie or a whole pie. There is no denying that her bakery and commitment to customer service epitomizes the homey, welcoming atmosphere that defines Memphis. “Get around the city, talk to some of the people,” she said. “Memphis has fantastic blues and fantastic barbecue, but we are so much more than that.” Kat Gordon and Muddy’s Bake Shop are proof enough.

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Posted in: Memphian to Meet