Photography by Kathy Tran
Engaged couple Ashley Johnson and Thaddeus Bell are co-owners of The Bells Sweet Factory, a food trailer and catering company based in Plano that does pop-ups across the Metroplex. Ashley and Thaddeus opened the business in 2016 in Louisiana as a sweet shop, hence the name. Since then, it has flourished into the thriving food business it is today.
New Orleans, Ashley and Thadd’s hometown, is home to many neighborhood places that sell candy, pickles, chips and other snacks, known locally as sweet shops. The small Louisiana town where they were living when they started their business didn’t have any – and they wanted to change that. They initially sold candy, soda and chips. Because it was summertime, the shop quickly garnered interest. They decided to cook hot dogs, chicken tenders and loaded fries. Locals loved the food, and they realized they were onto something.
“We both had full-time jobs, so we started doing suppers on the weekends. We’d charge $10 a plate and do fish, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and soda. That picked up really fast. Everyone loved our food. They were like, ‘Y’all should do this full time,’” Ashley shared.
Shortly after, Ashley lost her job. While Thadd was still at his job, she started running The Bells Sweet Factory full-time. By 2018 Thadd had lost his job, too, and they moved to Mississippi. Together, they started running the business full-time, offering food and dessert five days a week.
“Everybody in the town loved us and knew us. But because it was a small town, we didn’t make a lot of money. My mom and sister had been in Dallas since Hurricane Katrina. We decided to move there. If you can’t make money in Dallas, you can’t make money nowhere,” Ashley said with a laugh.
Once they got here, Thadd and Ashley took their food around to nearby hair salons, barber shops and nail salons.
“Word of mouth spread so fast just from that. So many people started looking for us. They would text us and ask for our food. It blew up from driving plates around in a car to this. We were broke, basically homeless and had a prepaid cell phone to communicate with customers,” Ashley remembered. “That summer, we went from $40 and flipped it. Our first meal was praline brownies and made $100. We used that [money] to cook. We then made six figures that next year.”
Last year, The Bells Sweet Factory began using a food trailer on top of the catering business. They recently announced they’ll be opening up a restaurant here near Parker and Custer Roads with a tentative opening date of July 4.
The Bells Sweet Factory food trailer typically sees incredibly long lines in any space they decide to park. Their schedule of locations is always listed on their Facebook or Instagram pages @thebellssweetfactory. Texans gravitate towards the food because it’s authentic New Orleans fare, something that is hard to find in the DFW area.
“You’re getting that Cajun, Creole taste. We’ve got seafood, fried fish, grilled fish, lobster, gumbo, yaki mein, praline brownies. The seasoning is where it’s at. We try to stick to everything you can get in New Orleans,” Ashley said.
Yaki mein is a New Orleans dish that is similar to Japanese ramen. It is made with a Cajun beef broth, though, and often has shrimp in it. The dish is a Bells Sweet specialty, and every time they put it on the menu, it sells out. “It’s like a secret. We surprise people with it,” said Ashley.
Thadd and Ashley refer to themselves as the Bonnie and Clyde of food. They identify with the characters because they’ve been through a lot together and have always remained true to one another.
“We’ve been together 14 years. We went through a broke stage. We went through struggles. We built our company together. We went from nothing. We are ride-or-die. Bonnie and Clyde were inseparable. We just do everything legally, that’s the difference,” Ashley laughed.