#IAmCullman: Sylvia and Tulsa from Duchess Bakery

Sylvia Edmondson (left) and Tulsa Halverson (second from right) pose for a photo in front of Duchess Bakery with co-workers Brandi Brewster (second from left) and Amber Butler (right). (2020 Cullman Tribune file photo)

With this feature series, The Cullman Tribune is highlighting everyday individuals all around Cullman County who make our community a great place. #IAmCullman

Many have heard the phrase, “Time to make the donuts,” but in Cullman, it’s important to know WHO made the donuts. Walking into work and seeing that blue bag or white box of fresh donuts from Duchess Bakery makes even the worst morning a little bit better. Have you ever wondered who the angels are who wake up every morning and prepare the heavenly glazed bits of goodness?

Tulsa Halverson and Sylvia Edmondson have been getting up early for more than a decade to make sure everyone can get fresh Duchess donuts. Edmondson celebrated her 13th anniversary at the bakery Jan. 23 and Halverson has been there for almost 12 years. Edmondson is also the talent behind the bakery’s pecan pie, Boston creme pie and chocolate surprise cakes.

The ladies get to work each morning at 3:30, perhaps earlier if they have large orders. Halverson lives in Winston County, so to make it to work on time, she wakes up each morning at 1:30. Edmondson drives from her home in Hanceville, so it’s not as early for her. Either way, they are busy making the donuts that other people are still at home dreaming about eating for breakfast.

For those who have never been inside Duchess Bakery, the smell is out of this world, and many want to take the mouthwatering aroma home.

Halverson said, “We’ve had this happen I don’t know how many times. We can go to the bank or Wal-Mart on my way home and people will come up smelling us and they will say, ‘You just smell so good! I know you work at Duchess Bakery.’”

“I’m going to make some Duchess Bakery perfume!” Edmondson laughed.

The women said they even had one customer come in trying to bottle the bakery’s smell.

Edmondson said she doesn’t notice the smell anymore, but shared, “When I first started here, my two favorite things, when the coffee started brewing, you could just smell it through the whole bakery. Then, when they opened the strawberry, the whole smell would come through. It was just amazing to me because you have had the coffee smell and the strawberry smell and it was just, ‘Ahhh!’”

Both ladies say they love their jobs.

“We still learn different things every day,” smiled Edmondson. “Something changes and we adjust to it.”

One of the biggest changes came when the old machine the dough was put into broke and they began making the donuts completely by hand.

“The yield is higher by doing it by hand and the customers say they are better,” she added.

Halverson laughed that making the donuts by hand helped to “muscle them up.”

The number of donuts made each day varies with Thursday, Friday and Saturday being the busiest days.

“We’ve had people come in and have special orders and we’ve sent them all the way to England and Australia,” said Halverson. “Representative Robert Aderholt would have his secretary bring him donuts up to Washington D.C. and he had them on national TV.”

Halverson and Edmondson have had several celebrity encounters during their time at the bakery- sportscaster Jeh Jeh Pruitt, meteorologist Fred Hunter and country group Little Big Town, to name a few.

Edmonson recalled that a few years ago during a severe weather outbreak, “They sat out here in our parking lot and we are coming in at 3 in the morning and they say, ‘You got any donuts?’ We had some Bismarcks and made hot coffee and sent them on their way.”

Edmondson joked about a funny story her friend recently told her: “He went to church and he said, ‘I told the preacher to go home and not look at me again.’ I asked him what was wrong. He said, ‘They went to Wal-Mart and bought donuts and I told him not to ever step inside the church here again! You either bring Duchess of don’t speak to me.’”

The ladies have had some memorable moments over the years, but three incidents stand out. The first was the scare that the bakery was on fire.

“We thought it was a fire because the exhaust system kicked on and flour came out. We called 911 for a fire truck. They had the whole block blocked off. Three fire trucks, four cop cars and two ambulances,” Halverson recalled.

“I mean, they were ready!” added Halverson.

The second was the tornado of 2011.

“People asked frantically, “Is the Duchess still standing!!” Edmondson laughed, “They didn’t ask us if we were OK but if the bakery was.”

The third was the one day the fryer wasn’t working and there were no donuts!

Edmondson said, “People were NOT happy about that. We couldn’t fix it and had to call someone. One lady cussed us out.”

One change Halverson wants customers to be aware of is that Duchess German chocolate cakes will now be made with nuts.

“I think people will be happy,” she said. “Growing up, every German chocolate, to me, had nuts in it.”

Obviously, the classic glazed donuts are the bakery’s best sellers, but Duchess also makes donut nuggets, cinnamon twists, cookies, jelly donuts and many more yummy treats.

Duchess Bakery was established in 1939 and is located at 222 First Ave. SE.

Halverson summed up working at Duchess Bakery, saying, “Who you work with and the job itself makes your life easier. Knowing you are making customers happy and they are standing there drooling as soon as they walk through the door because they know they are fixin’ to get that hot donut, it just makes your day.”

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