When Merridee McCray started selling her fresh-baked sweets in 1981, word quickly spread about the delicious pies and homemade bread coming from the little log cabin in Fairview, Tenn. Three years later, McCray moved her operations to an old hardware store and into the heart of downtown Franklin’s redoubled revitalization efforts.
Since then, Merridee’s Breadbasket has continued to grow—expanding from a shared one-room shop to a renovated space twice its size, and building out an expansive menu to go along with the additions. Featured on the pages of Southern Living magazine and on The Food Network’s Best of Baker’s Show, it’s not hard to see why the little bakery on Fourth Avenue is now one of the hottest breakfast and luncheon spots in Williamson County.
“Merridee’s business grew quickly because of her product. And she was ahead of her time,” said Jim Kreider, current owner of Merridee’s Breadbasket. “The trendy bakery café concept was a new market segment back then. She left a legacy.”
He says he met Merridee in the summer of 1994 while visiting Nashville with a friend in the music industry. When he returned from the trip to his family business in Pennsylvania, he found a 40-page fax waiting on him: a proposal to buy the restaurant from Merridee, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Kreider was running the place three months later.
“I wasn’t looking to own a restaurant, but then I met Merridee,” he said. “I love it here when I walk in and see people are having a really good time. It’s great being part of a place that’s like that.”
The Merridee’s menu runs the gamut in Southern sweets, offering fresh-baked breads, old-fashioned cookies and hand-rolled pies with real fruit fillings. Its breakfast and lunch menu includes unpretentious sandwiches and daily soup and quiche specials.
Merridee’s manager Patti Jobe—who has been at the restaurant since 1997—says that since Kreider grabbed the reins, he’s added a certain depth to the menu without compromising the heart of the bakery’s original idea. She says everything in the place is made the old-fashioned way, with no pre-mixes in sight. From the off-the-grill apple bacon panini to the homemade beer cheese soup and sweet cinnamon sticky rolls, all the items are made from fresh ingredients… real sacks of flour or bags of whole grain.
“I think people connect to the fact that it’s all made from scratch,” Jobe said. “Our atmosphere is like you’re at home, hanging out in the kitchen. We’ve stayed true to that and people compliment us on it.”
Though crowd favorites like chicken salad and molasses cake cookies remain, the exposed-beamed bakery has implemented a number of items in the last few years that Kreider says has attracted a unique crowd set. The full espresso bar and media nods like Southern Living’s “The South’s Best Cookies” have also helped contribute to the downtown restaurant’s revved-up popularity.
“We have a funky mix of old Franklin and new Franklin,” Kreider said. “There are judges, mothers, high school students, musicians and business people all gathering at one place.”
“It’s a fun crowd and there’s such a sense of community here,” Jobe added. “Our customers definitely take ownership of this place. It’s like an extended board of directors.”
Kreider, who hails from the eastern part of the country, says that he hasn’t considered moving from Middle Tennessee in the 17 years he’s been here.
“I like the old school charm,” he said. “ You want Southern hospitality, it’s right here!
“There are big city things tucked away in a little Southern town and the longer I’m here, the more I like it.”