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Local baker Venee Pawlowski wins $5,000 in General Mills contest

Local baker Venee Pawlowski wins $5,000 in General Mills contest

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A young Greensboro baker has won $5,000 and some national attention after General Mills chose her as one of 20 winners in its Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest.

Venee Pawlowski started Black Magnolia Southern Patisserie in earnest in May 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic led to an extension of her maternity leave from Greensboro Country Club.

Pawlowski won for her bourbon banoffee pecan cinnamon rolls, inspired partially by the classic British banoffee pie that combines bananas, cream and toffee. General Mills’ judges cited the cinnamon rolls for being “over-the-top, indulgent” and offering an unusual flavor combination.

Those rolls are a more indulgent version of the brioche cinnamon rolls that are Black Magnolia’s best-seller.

In fact, Pawlowski’s decision to start her home bakery business during the pandemic resulted from her love of the cinnamon rolls sold at Machete on Battleground Avenue in Greensboro.

“I had been using the name Black Magnolia since 2018, but just doing a few cakes on the side. It really all started last year because I remembered Machete’s cinnamon rolls, but whenever I tried to get them, they were always sold out,” Pawlowski said. “One day my husband said, ‘Well, you do know how to bake.’”

She made a batch or two for fun, then friends started asking for them. “Then I started doing cinnamon rolls every weekend. Then the menu expanded to a specialty cake, banana pudding, little pies.”

She now also sells baked goods such as bacon cheddar garlic biscuits, brown butter chocolate chip cookies, bourbon chocolate chess tart, salted honey pies and Fruity Pebbles cheesecake.

“That cheesecake is really off-brand for me,” Pawlowski said with a laugh, “but it’s just fun.”

Though she has looked for a retail space, for now she plans to keep Black Magnolia as a wholesale, home-based bakery. People can buy her baked goods at the Green Bean coffee shop at 341 S. Elm St., or contact her through Black Magnolia’s Facebook page or website for special orders.

Baking is a second career for Pawlowski, 38, a former administrative assistant. She actually had enrolled in the culinary program at Guilford County Technical College about 20 years ago but dropped out for family reasons.

After years of office work, she got back into the food-and-beverage business less than 10 years ago, first as a barista at Loaf Bakery. Her love of baking was reawakened at Loaf and she started training under the pastry chef. She then worked at Sweet Josephine’s in High Point and later at Table 16, first waiting tables there before becoming its pastry chef.

She also worked at White and Wood before moving to Greensboro Country Club.

Pawlowski said she was surprised to win the General Mills contest. “I’m the new kid on the block. I’m just starting out, going up against all these other businesses. So this was pretty awesome.”

Pawlowski said that her baking capacity is limited at the moment, but she hopes to expand in the near future. She’s looking to move soon to a home that will allow her to bake more.

By the spring, she hopes to become a vendor at Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, held Saturday mornings at 501 Yanceyville St.

In addition to the $5,000 she already won, Pawlowski has a chance to win $5,000 for a local charity, Greensboro Urban Ministry. That will be determined by a social-media vote. People can vote through Feb. 26 on General Mills Convenience and Foodservice’s Facebook page.

Contact Michael Hastings at 336-727-7394 or mhastings@wsjournal.com.

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