This piece was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
Eggs. Flour. Milk. Sugar. Your basic ingredients for a cupcake. But so much more than that goes into the cupcakes at HaliHannigan’s Café & Cakery. Five years ago a cozy little space in the Columns bedecked in pink and black opened its doors—and its heart—to the Jackson community.
Neill and Christi Bartlett, the husband and wife team that co-own HaliHannigan’s (whose name is derived from various parts of the names of their three daughters), were ready for a change. Christi, having played the corporate game for many years, writing million-dollar grants and such, wanted to do something different. Neill, a native Aussie, was in real estate and bringing his considerable broadcasting talents to our airwaves, wondered what that “different” just might look like.
Over lunch one day, Neill recalls, Christi said she wanted to open a cupcakery. “A what?” he said. A cupcakery. Christi grew up in Alabama baking in her mama’s kitchen, and her first full-time job was in a bakery. Specialty cupcake stores were trending across the United States and were featured on shows like “Cake Boss” and “Cupcake Wars.” So they looked around, both took a deep breath, and HaliHannigan’s Cupcakery was born. “It’s a family—and it’s a business. It’s a family business,” says Neill.
I have often said that Hali’s is the best kept and most delicious secret in Jackson. And it’s not simply because of their delectable treats. When you stroll into Hali’s, you become part of their family and are welcomed into their hearts. “We consider it a privilege to be part of people’s lives. We share their joys, battles, and victories. Some end well and others break our hearts,” says Neill, with a wistful smile.
I can personally attest to that. Having noticed that Hali’s was a tremendous supporter of folks in true need, whether it be terminal illness or house fire, they were there. Donation buckets and 10% days (giving 10% of their café income on a particular day) were the norm at the sweetest place in Jackson.
Four years ago I approached Christi and Neill with Belle’s story. Belle Mitchell, the youngest daughter of one of my college besties (then a precocious four-year-old), had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was being treated at St. Jude. After recruiting several of my “real runner” friends for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, we formed Team Belle: Jackson, Tennessee. I asked Hali’s for their help in raising awareness and funds. For them it was a no-brainer, Neill says. They read Belle’s story and, having daughters of their own, were moved to support this precious cancer warrior and her family. Over the course of three years Hali’s would raise nearly $2,000 to support St. Jude in honor of Belle.
After a valiant five-year fight, Belle passed away in January 2015. When I stopped into Hali’s some time after her passing, Christi and I wept in each other’s arms. We had lost a member of our family. But we wouldn’t give up hope for other cancer warriors and everyone else in need in this world.
And that’s just one of the many families whose lives have been touched by the generosity of the Hali’s community. They reached out to the family of Officer Michael Brockmeyer, a decade-long veteran of the Jackson Police Department who succumbed to cancer in 2011. Adoptions, Adopt-A-Teen, Newborns in Crisis, RIFA, and The Dream Center are all recipients of the “family”
generosity. Angel Tree, Operation Christmas Child, and Carl Perkins Center seasonal giving drives are holiday regulars at HaliHannigan’s. And the list goes on.
Most recently their cupcakes have catered such events as Taste of Home 2015, and artists like Olivia Newton-John and Richard Marx have sung their praises. Among our household favorites are the Mud Pie, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and Cookies-n-Cream. I suspect that if asked that very same question to Neill, he might reply that it’s akin to choosing your favorite child.
Several years ago they decided to add lunch offerings on their menu, and it was quite a deal! Made-to-order sandwiches, chips, and a drink for just five dollars! Yummy and easy on the pocket. They expanded to salads, soups, and the ever-so-decadent CupShake—yes, folks, it’s just like it sounds. They would take your favorite cupcake, add vanilla bean ice cream, and blend.
Heaven in a fountain glass. Good thing they were located right next door to Jackson Sports and Fitness.
Until October 2015, that is. After five years in the Columns, Neill and Christi realized that they were simply outgrowing their cozy nook. They wanted to add more seating, focus on their lunch business, and enlarge their kitchen space, but the Columns store couldn’t accommodate such visionary growth. So they began polling their customers, following patron trends, and searching for another building.
HaliHannigan’s relocated to 1660 South Highland Street, Suite K, in the Madison South Shopping Plaza. In addition to fifty percent more square footage, they now enjoy a full kitchen and walk-in freezer. It’s perfect for their vision of expanding their menu offerings and treating the lunch crowd to a plate of yumminess, Hali’s-style.
Paninis, local Memphis-roasted coffee, and chicken-n-dumplins (a crowd favorite) now grace the menu. For those concerned about Hali’s signature cupcakes, rest assured that your favorite just might be one of their weekly staples; Wedding Cake, Mud Pie, Turtle Cheesecake, and Chocolate Explosion are standard offerings. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for other delightful flavors and seasonal favorites.
So I ventured the typical question of Neill: his favorite menu item. Thinking he would name some type of cake-a-licious-ness, he surprised me with his reply: Paninis. The Full Monte (a HH spin on the traditional Monte Cristo), Smoked Apple Gouda (which makes my mouth water by just typing the words), and the Fat Elvis (peanut butter, banana, . . . and bacon).
He is quick to say that they “made the move to grow, that this is phase two of HaliHannigan’s. Growth and change are good. We don’t name our competitors when asked. We believe in focusing on your product and making it the best possible. Ultimately, you are your best competition.” Knowing what your customer-friends like, making it affordable and delicious, and creating an inviting space in which to feast and fellowship.
Those are the ingredients. It makes for a sweet experience.
Wife, homeschooling mama, friend, and avid SEC football fan, Tracie Barnard has loved living in Jackson for six years.
Header image by Kristi Woody.