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Bluff City Toffee Is On A Sweet Mission


Sweets can brighten up anyone’s day. But for Bluff City Toffee, it can also enrich the lives of adults with special needs. Founded in 2016 by Memphis baker Stephanie Upshaw, Bluff City Toffee underwent new ownership last year when the Madonna Learning Center took on the reins of the company along with its mission to provide on-the-job training for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Beyondish caught up with Jo Gilbert, Executive Director of Bluff City Toffee and the Madonna Learning Center, to talk about their goal of empowering, inspiring and satisfying sugar cravings.

For folks who aren’t familiar with the brand, what would you like them to know about Bluff City Toffee?

We are more than a sweet shop. When Madonna Learning Center purchased Bluff City Toffee from Stephanie in November 2022, the mission changed forever. (Stephanie Upshaw currently serves on the board of directors.) Our trainees are actively involved in producing, weighing, packaging and gift-wrapping products which are sold online, in various local retail stores, and at our Memphis storefront.

What makes your toffee stand out from others?

Simplicity. Making all Bluff City Toffee products is a simple process, which to us, is what makes them all so good! The team makes each toffee variety by hand in small batches using just a few simple, natural ingredients. Think butter, sugar, nuts, chocolate, as well as sea salt for one flavor.

What are your most popular toffee selections?

Our offerings include Milk Chocolate Pecan, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, and Dark Chocolate Pecan with Sea Salt. Milk Chocolate Pecan is our most popular, but the other two are equally as good. All are made from scratch at the Bluff City Toffee storefront. Other delicious offerings include Butter Toffee Cookies, Toffee Popcorn and Toffee Crumbles.

Where and how do you source your ingredients?

Our high-quality ingredients are simple and sourced locally from commercial suppliers.

Tell us about the Madonna Learning Center.

Madonna Learning Center in Germantown, Tennessee, is a nonprofit school and training center serving children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Through its work-based learning and continuing education programs, Madonna’s adult trainees work on the job, learning a variety of skills as a result. With the purchase in November 2022, Bluff City Toffee became one of the ventures empowering these trainees.

What would you like other businesses to learn from your mission to empower and employ adults with special needs?

It is our hope that a more inclusive community results from interactions customers have with trainees at the storefront and at markets in the community. The company’s growth has not only helped the business, but Madonna Learning Center, too, as every sale increases the school’s visibility. Interest in adult programming has soared, with more applicants expressing interest in learning more about training and exhibiting independence in a safe environment.

What’s been the response from your local community?

Absolutely incredible! We’ve had the good fortune of being included in many media stories and participating in markets across our area. The latter allows trainees to take center stage as they interact with dozens and dozens of customers in a short period of time. They are eager to share everything they know about the products and to complete transactions. It’s not often that the public hands payment to an individual with an intellectual disability. The expertly processed transactions cause the purchaser to see ability rather than disability, which is a beautiful thing.

Tell us about the Memphis food scene and why food lovers nationwide should try it.

There’s no doubt Memphis is a food city. While it’s known for barbecue, the talented culinary minds here are creating so much more than that. From restaurants with James Beard Award finalists at the helm to small businesses like ours sharing simple, but incredibly delicious treats, there’s something for everyone in Memphis. I may be biased, but I highly recommend foodies and those with a sweet tooth give our products a try. It’s such a great and easy way to enjoy a taste of Memphis or to give the gift of just that to a coworker, customer or loved one. Every purchase helps our trainees accomplish goals that were once dreams.

 What’s coming up for Bluff City Toffee?

We’re gearing up for our busiest time of the year – the holidays. Our products are an extremely popular corporate gift and also [available] at local holiday markets and shops. It is an incredibly busy time, but one we look forward to with excitement and anticipation.


Marc Cuenco

Marc Cuenco is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer with over 10 years of experience covering pop culture, food, fashion and lifestyle. A healthcare professional by day, Marc spends his free time taking photos of his puppy Chandler and exploring L.A.’s diverse food scene.


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