Doris Wyatt and Tracy Embro are hardcore customers of Sassy Pecan tea room in Lebanon.
They are also avid lovers of “Tennessee Crossroads”, the iconic Nashville Public Television original production that explores weekly destinations in Tennessee.
It all aligned last Wednesday for these best friends when they were part of the action of a “Tennessee Crossroads” episode filmed at the Wilson County tea room.
It was quite the commotion on Greenwood Street starting at about 9:30 a.m. when “Tennessee Crossroads” producer and host Miranda Cohen and her team descended on Sassy Pecan to film a segment scheduled to air in six weeks. Sassy Pecan owner Ka Small is quite the celebrity already in Lebanon, a relatively new location for her restaurant that started out as a pecan candy making business out of a commercial kitchen in 2014.
Small is the self-dubbed “Chief Nut” and the originator of the Sticky Doohickey, Sweetie Cakes, Sassy Pecan Cluster and Sassy Pecan Toffee Bark. This Middle Georgia-raised entrepreneur moved her restaurant from Watertown to Lebanon in October of 2020. Now the quaint tea room has lunch choices on the menu as well.
Cohen, a former Nashville TV reporter now in her second year at “Tennessee Crossroads”, said Sassy Pecan landed on her radar via Wyatt, who is her Brandywine Pointe neighbor and friend. During a break after a two-hour interview with Small in the decades-old home turned restaurant, Cohen explained how she came to be in Lebanon on a sticky, hazy hot day to explore what Sassy Pecan has to offer.
“Doris (Wyatt) came to me and said I just had to go to Sassy Pecan and eat lunch,” Cohen said. “It’s minutes like that when we get story ideas. This is a wonderful experience and a hidden gem. Sassy Pecan certainly lives up to its reputation.”
During the filming the restaurant’s outside tables were crowded on the front veranda. The two main dining rooms were packed with happy diners as well.
“We are Southerners whose mission is to plant a little piece of home wherever we are,” said Small. “Life was simpler growing up in the South. Food was all about comfort and quality, and we did our work with good humor and a dash of sass. Grandma shared her love of food and my goal is to do the same. Her recipe box serves as the foundation for Sassy Pecan.”
When Small announced that “Tennessee Crossroads” would film at her restaurant she invited her regulars to come be part of it all. Watertown Chamber of Commerce Parade Coordinator Deena Dowd stopped by to say hi.
“We like to keep in touch with our businesses, even when they move to the next town,” said Dowd.
The “Tennessee Crossroads” team was thrilled when Mildred Manning, 92, showed up. Manning lived in the home for 58 years and raised four children there.
“I often go by and am so happy to see Sassy Pecan is here and is doing so well,” she said.
“Tennessee Crossroads” photographer Jason Code, went from room to room to film customers and the preparation of lunches. Senior Producer Jim DeMarco hovered and helped with the all-day shoot. Editor Ashleigh Brandmeyer worked alongside Cohen.
“We are the stars today it seems,” Small said with a laugh.
Smith County residents Jennifer Maynard and her friend Stephanie Johnson were part of the crowd, tucked at a little table awaiting their orders of chicken salad sandwiches. At another table were Elaine Payne and Jane Morrow.
“I just love the peach strawberry tea,” said Morrow. “We love their pecan desserts and chicken salad.”
Those menu favorites came from Small’s grandma, Mae.
“She was a Southern cook,” said Small. “She cooked cobbler, greens and red-eye gravy. She had pecan trees, she pickled cucumbers and was old school.”
Through the years, Small perfected her blackberry cobbler, Dutch apple and pineapple upside down cakes, as well as toffee and caramels. They took her confections to trade shows. Signature are her “Sweetie Cakes” which are the sassy version of the microwave mug cake, topped with chopped toffees and flavored chocolates.
“It took eight months to develop,” said Small.
Many of her candies are available to buy and take home, such as sassy nuts and toffee popcorn.
Last Wednesday, the chicken salad made with pulled chicken and pecans and cranberries served on a warm croissant were popular orders, as well as the turkey wrap. The Sticky Doohickeys were a hit on this day also. Each bar is made with melted marshmallows, butter, crispy rice cereal and pecans.
Small holds a master’s in business administration. A seven-year stint in Minnesota, a move related to husband Jay’s business, only solidified her love of the South. She said that her business has tripled and about 60 percent of the customers are regulars.
“My roots are Southern,” Small said just before a producer asked her to again be filmed. “It’s about friends and family and food is the center of everything. The community has been such a support. We are here baking at 6 a.m. every morning.”
Small said becoming famous on “Tennessee Crossroads” in six weeks came as a complete surprise.
“We are ecstatic to be filmed,” she said. “It’s such an honor.”