Melody Young is a Master Biscuit Maker at the 25th Street Bojangles in Cleveland, Tenn. After winning two Bojangles regional biscuit-making competitions, she next will compete against representatives of six other regions in the restaurant’s franchise division at the company’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 10.Photo by Jake Daniels.
She sifts the flour in a circle on the biscuit table and works some onto her hands and fingers before she goes to work.
By the time 26-year-old Melody Young places the biscuits on a pan and in the hot oven behind her, the flour covers her tools, creeps under her fingernails and dots her uniform.
When you're a Master Biscuit Maker, there's no room for error. The amount of time you take to wash your hands, the angle at which you tilt your tray to butter the biscuits, and the height, diameter and color of each of your biscuits are judged.
Young, of Cleveland, Tenn., has become so adept at her craft -- she turns out 3,900 to 4,300 biscuits a week and has won two competitions -- that she will represent her region of 37 Bojangles stores against representatives of six other regions in the restaurant's franchise division at a biscuit-maker challenge at the company's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 10.
"This is not something everybody can do," said Don Jones, owner of BoSouthTennessee, a chain of seven stores from Cleveland to Dalton, Ga.
"It's not just like ... popping a [refrigerated] loaf and throwing it in the oven," Jones said. "Everything we do has biscuits in it, [and] people love our product. Consistency is the biggest thing you're looking for in biscuit makers. If you don't have experience, you have a lot of inconsistencies. That product, like our chicken and tea, is very important. That's what we do. That's what our business is built around."
Young, a single mother of three, said that before coming to work two years ago at the Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits on 25th Street in Cleveland, she had never made biscuits from scratch. "I can't cook," she said. Her idea of making biscuits, she said, was going to the store to buy a tube of Pillsbury Grands.
Once she started at the restaurant, having digested a manual and video instruction, it took her a couple of weeks to get the hang of biscuitry, she said.
Many employees take longer, said Theresa Crews, director of operations for BoSouthTennessee.
"It's a natural talent," she said. "You know the dough. You know the feel."
Jeff Franklin, unit director of the Cleveland restaurant, said Young is ideal at her job.
"She's a great employee," he said. "She's friendly. The customers love her. Her peers love her. She has no problems training. She's willing to learn."
Jones said corporate Bojangles units have held a biscuit-maker challenge for years, but this is only the third year for owners on the franchise side of the business.
"[Biscuits] are a signature product for us," he said. "We spend a lot of time on them. And even though they taste good, we want them to be the right size, right color, right texture. We [treat] them like we do our chicken. Chicken, biscuits and tea -- those are our signature products."
Young was selected by Franklin as the best biscuit maker at the Cleveland restaurant. She competed with winners from each of the BoSouthTennessee restaurants in a challenge at the Fort Oglethorpe store and won.
That put her in the region competition in Lenoir City, Tenn., where she would compete for a $100 prize against 12 others from franchises covering 37 stores.
Young said she was a little frightened at the challenge but was eager to "get in there and do it."
Young got a Facebook message from her son, went into a bathroom to take a breather and came out with her game face on, Franklin said.
In Charlotte, Young and others will compete in a glass-front test kitchen, according to Crews. All the equipment they'll need will be at their fingertips. But scores of people will be staring in from the other side of the glass.
Competitors -- in the upcoming event as well as the preliminaries -- are judged on a seven-page score sheet. Uniforms must be precise. Their pastry brush must be in a designated place. The buttermilk must be shaken a certain number of times. The wet dough must be portioned in a certain way. Care must be taken not to "bulldoze" the dough. Biscuits must be placed in the pan in a numerical order. The baked biscuits must be compared to a color chart. The proper announcement -- "Hot Fresh Bojangles Biscuits!" -- must be voiced.
There's also a written test.
The winner will receive $1,000 and recognition at the company convention next year.
"It's a big thing," Jones said.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...