Tonya Council, a trailblazing Southern baker with deep roots in North Carolina, understands how family can help create a legacy. She’s the granddaughter of the late Mildred Council, better known as Mama Dip, a pillar of Southern cooking.
Tonya is now an entrepreneur in her own right as the founder of Tonya’s Cookies and Sweet Tea & Cornbread. Most recently, she acquired NC Made, an online destination for artisanal gourmet food and gifts from her home state. Born into culinary royalty - Mildred Council was lauded by presidents, celebrities and sports stars - Tonya spent the better part of her life working side by side with her grandmother at the famed Mama Dip’s Kitchen in Chapel Hill. As a child, she helped shell pecans and flip eggs. As a teen, she waited tables while learning the back end of the business and how to thrive as a savvy female business owner.
Her breakout moment came while working on a cookie recipe to help fill the empty dessert case in the front of Mama Dip’s. She wanted to create a cookie that tasted like her grandmother’s famous pecan pie. The result? Her ultra-popular Pecan Crisp cookie and the fuel for her own business, Tonya’s Cookies, which she founded in 2009. The products are sold nationally and available in five different flavors of her original Pecan Crisp — all delicious, all gluten-free, and made with the finest North Carolina pecans, sourced from a family-owned farm.
In 2017, Tonya opened Sweet Tea & Cornbread, a retail store that offers gourmet Southern foods and products originating in North Carolina. In 2019, she expanded and opened Sweet Tea & Cornbread Café in the North Carolina Museum of History, focusing on her sense of tradition infused with a modern edge. The menu features updated classics, like the Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich, Fried Okra and Chopped Pork BBQ, as well as lighter fare like the Bacon, Lettuce and Green Tomato sandwich, Chicken Salad and a handful of salads served with cornbread. Burgers and hot dogs round off the menu for easy, family fare and there’s always a daily special with a Southern twist.
Most importantly, Tonya’s family not only has inspired her to become the chef, baker and entrepreneur that she is, her influential grandmother gave her the push to forge her own path. And with so many pots boiling on her stove, it’s a good thing the world is finally getting a chance to get to know Tonya better.