Watching “Mama” and “Papa” at work is like watching a domestic sitcom up close and in your face.
“She wanted to go out for dinner on Mother’s Day, so she burned my house down,” shouts Papa from the back of the shop.
“He’ll never forget Mother’s Day again!” Mama hollers back from the front counter.
And so goes a typical day at “Mama’s Muffins & More" — Lakewood’s newest bake shop.
“Mama,” who in real life is Tamy Pelcha-Hamilton, 50, and Rod “Papa” Hamilton, 54, launched their retail-wholesale muffin business June 11 in the strip mall at 10518 S. Tacoma Way.
Each day, shoulder to shoulder, quip to quip, “Mama” and “Papa” crank out about 30 dozen of the largest, tastiest muffins ever to emerge steaming hot from a commercial oven. Twenty-two flavors in all. Not only muffins, but fresh oven-baked breads, rolls, pastries and other scrumptious treats as well.
“We’ve got your regular lemon, poppy-seed, blueberry and strawberry muffins, but we’ve also got lemon-blueberry and strawberry-banana and much more,” says Mama.
In the short time Mama's Muffins has been up and running, demand has soared. Today, besides serving walk-in traffic, they supply about 30 commercial clients, including the Forza Coffee Shop chain.
Born in Wanatchee and raised locally, Hamilton started learning the baking trade in the fifth grade, helping his father make donuts at the family bakery. After high school, he joined the Navy, hoping to become a U.S. Navy SEAL.
“But I’m color blind. So I was a cook,” he said. “Four years on a nuclear submarine was four years enough.”
After spending four years on the nuclear submarine Skipjack, Hamilton left the Navy in 1979 and became a baker for the Safeway grocery store chain. Thirty years later, he moved to the Save-A-Lot chain, where he remained until last October.
“I’m Rachael Ray and he’s Bobby Flay (of the Food Network),” Mama says. “He’s the professional baker and I’m the homemaker cook.”
The two met via an Internet dating service. As so often happens over muffin recipes, the couple fell in love. They married in August 2007, him for the fifth time and her for the first. She brought two children to the mix. He added five of his own.
Mama loves to cook at home. She’s good at it too, if she does say so herself, especially when she’s not starting grease fires. The family had to move into a hotel recently while the house underwent $30,000 in repairs. But little setbacks like that haven't stopped her from experimenting with new and tasty cuisine.
“The joke in our house is, ‘If you really like it, you’d better enjoy it because it’ll never taste the same again.”
An unemployed former marketing manager with experience in the clothing industry, Mama couldn’t find a job in her line of work. That’s when the idea for baking and wholesaling designer muffins popped into her head several years ago.
She and Papa were down to signing on the dotted line to launch a new bakery in Fircrest, but loan-disbursal issues set the business up for failure from the outset.
“I’m a firm believer that things happen when they need to happen. So we backed off,” Mama said. “It was the right decision. Now the location is the Greener Bean Coffee Co. and they sell our muffins—ironically.”
After her unemployment benefits ran out, she and Papa took $600 in savings, bought six muffin pans and leased rental space in a commercial kitchen in Renton to start the new enterprise.
“I started with two accounts,” Mama said. “At first it was only eight different flavors. That’s all we sold.”
Various factors eventually sent them searching for new digs, including delivery transportation costs, the commercial kitchen fees and availability of rented kitchen time. Their present location, which had housed Ronnie’s Bakery for 14 years, was available.
Mama and Papa purchased the equipment and the rest is history.
“We got swamped so quickly, just with muffins. Wholesale accounts doubled overnight,” Mama said. “Pretty soon we had to get 12 more muffin pans.
“It’s all a numbers game. Probably out of every 10 clients I visit, I get four.”
In the beginning, the plan was for Mama to run the business herself and for Papa to stay at Save-A-Lot as a manager. But Mama and Papa have more than a marriage.
Theirs is a partnership.
“She was putting in all those hours and I got to thinking about it and said, ‘Y’know, my job is to be down there.’ I needed to be the husband my wife deserves—to be by her side working with her, and that’s what I did.”