Gastronomy: Main One Stop serves up sweets by the slice

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If there’s one thing gas stations are known for … it’s gas. But if there’s a second thing, it’s got to be food. 

For some gas stations, food comes first. Across Northeast Mississippi, service stations are serving up the kinds of plate lunches, sweet treats and deep-fried deliciousness that give people a reason to drop in to fill up, even if their gas tanks aren’t empty. 

This month, we dropped by three local gas stations that are quickly becoming, or have always been, foodie destinations.

Alongside the glass displays of mouth-watering fried chicken, biscuits and barbecue found at the average Mississippi gas station, Main One Stop in Calhoun City has a case full of freshly baked cakes, pies and cookies.

Each cake is made from scratch by Ann Langford, 74, and her husband, Johnny Langford, 76. They’ve been baking cakes at the gas station, formerly known as Buck’s One Stop, for more than 20 years. The couple got into the cake-making business when her son, Buck Langford, purchased the station gas station.

When Buck bought the store, four varieties of cake were sold there. Ann and Johnny Langford added the rest.

“I’ve always loved to bake,” Ann said. “A lot of these recipes are mine.”

The husband and wife duo whip up strawberry cakes, German chocolate cakes, Butterfinger cakes, coconut cakes, yellow cakes with cream cheese, pound cakes along with several other cakes and pies.

But the couple’s blue-ribbon winner is their made-from-scratch caramel cake. Customers have driven from as far away as Jackson to buy them, and they’ve been shipped as far away as Canada and Iraq.

When asked what each enjoys about baking, Johnny jokingly responded, “quitting time.”

Ann wasn’t having it.

“If you didn’t like to cook, it would probably be a long day,” she said. “But I love to cook.

She gestured toward her husband.

“And I guess he does,” she said with a laugh. “He’s here with me!”

For Johnny, chatting with gas station regulars and meeting new people through their work makes the days feel shorter.

Their son sold the business last year, and the couple retired in January. But when the new owner asked them to return, the Langfords needed little convincing.

The couple now works three days per week, five or six hours each day.

“We don’t have to be here every day,” Ann said. “As long as I keep the cakes in stock, then I can go fishing.”

They churn out at least 10 cakes per day, including 20 to 30 caramel cakes per week. The store sells them whole or by the slice.

Ann’s caramel cake recipe will stay with the store, she said, even after they retire for good.

Whoever inherits the task of making them, however, will have their work cut out for them. Beating the caramel icing is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. And it has to be heated to just the right temperature on the stove.

Ann will have to show the caramel cooking process to her successor; no timer can tell when the caramel is ready.

“You can learn to do it, but you’ve got to be willing to work,” Ann said.

Ann just knows when the golden-brown caramel icing is just the right texture and consistency, and customers will continue to line up for as long as Main One Stop serves up sweets by the slice.

Photos by Thomas Wells