Patricia Barnes, a.k.a. Sister, has enjoyed baking since she was old enough to hold a spoon. Growing up in Troy, Sister, a name given to her by her older sister, Charlotte, who could not pronounce Patricia, spent hours in the kitchen with her mother and her grandmother, Gommey. It was Gommey who taught her the art of making dinner rolls-the same rolls Sister donated to her church’s holiday frozen food fair in 1989. That first year, she donated 20 pans, and they all sold. The second year, the rolls were added to the pre-order form, and Sister had to cut the orders off at 200 pans. In 1991, the third year, orders were limited to 300 pans. It was then Sister had a revelation: if the people of Troy liked her rolls so much, perhaps others would too.
“I talked to my daddy, who was a business guru and entrepreneur, and told him about my dream and to ask his advice about going big with the dinner roll business,” says Sister. “He told me in his business, he knew what he was going to make when he sold any given piece of furniture, and then he asked me how many pans of rolls I could sell.”
Sister convinced her father she could sell enough to build a successful business, so he fronted the money to buy equipment and offered her space in his furniture warehouse. And with that, Sister Schubert’s was born.
Sister took what started as a small catering business out of her home and opened her first commercial kitchen in 1,000 square feet of the furniture warehouse, but after just six months, the roll-making and baking had taken over, and there was no longer any room for the furniture!
The tremendous and very quick growth of Sister Schubert’s led Sister to hire George Barnes, a food broker, to peddle her pans. George did such a good job marketing the rolls that in 1994, Sister Schubert’s opened a state-of-the-art, 25,000 square foot facility in Luverne. In the early years, workers who lived in Troy and had been with Sister from the beginning were bused to Luverne and back every day to make the commute easier.
A year later, Sister married George and by 1998, the Luverne bakery had completed two expansions rolling out more than 3 million rolls a day!
It was then the decision was made to sell the company stock to Lancaster Colony Corporation out of Columbus, Ohio, which almost immediately propelled Sister Schubert’s into a national brand.
“One of the most appealing things about Lancaster was their history of buying family-owned businesses, but keeping the family on board to help run the company,” says Sister.
And that is exactly what happened.
Now with manufacturing facilities in Alabama and Kentucky, Sister still enjoys going into the bakeries and working alongside the employees rolling out the dough.
“I’m kind of my own ‘undercover boss’ (referring to the prime time series on CBS),” says Sister. “Once I was in my apron with my hair pulled back, and I got on one of the lines and was placing rolls into the pans. One of the ladies told me I wasn’t folding them right and the rolls were not going to rise like they should, so she showed me how to do it correctly. She had no idea who I was, and I loved it!”
Sister and George are still very integral players in the success of the company. Sister helps to oversee research and development of new products, and her eyes grow as she offers the scoop on the new products that will be on the market in the next months, including Pretzel Rolls, Crusty Baguettes, Banana Nut Bread, Cranberry Orange Bread and Mini Loaves of Bread. Angus Burger Sliders are another product in the developmental stages.
Talking about new and existing products for Sister Schubert’s is still exciting for Sister, but it’s not the yeast and dough that really gets a rise out of her; it’s the Barnes Family Foundation.
Sharing their good fortune with others, the Barnes Family Foundation was founded in 2001 and offers study abroad scholarships, restores buildings for historic preservation, feeds the hungry and has built a Foster Care Home in the Ukraine.
The Study Abroad Scholarships are given annually through Auburn University’s School of Human Sciences and provide opportunities for students to experience other cultures around the world. The Historic Preservation division of the foundation restores historical sites to preserve a rich heritage. Recent projects include the renovation and restoration of the Henderson House, which was built in 1867, the Pioneer Museum, and George’s family home in Andalusia.
Feed the Hungry, built on the belief that no one should go hungry, provides rolls to local food banks, homeless individuals and shelters, churches and other organizations that serve the needy, and assists those faced with devastation, like the April 27 tornadoes that ripped through Alabama. Sister Shubert’s Roll Company sent truckloads of sausage rolls all across the state to those who lost everything.
“When we see a need, we are there as quickly as we can load the trucks,” says Sister. “It warms our hearts to be able to share our rolls with those who are hungry.”
Sasha’s Home, the Foster Care Home, established by the Barnes Family Foundation in 2008, is named in honor of Sister and George’s adopted Ukrainian-born son, Alexander, who was located through the foundation. The home, located in Gorlovka, houses foster and adoptive families while they get to know the child(ren) they will be raising.
“Sasha’s Home is a building of seven apartments for families to live together while getting to know the children they are fostering or will adopt,” says Sister. “It provides a loving, Christian atmosphere for the family to get to know each other; likes and dislikes, habits and things like that. Some of the children live there their entire lives, but they are so loved.”
Sister received the Petro Gorlov Medal for her work at Sasha’s Home.
On her second visit to the Ukraine, Sister was presented handmade cards from the children who were playing in the Solarium Room at the Foster Care Home.
“One little girl called me ‘Mamma Sister,’ and I wish you could have seen her little face as she told me ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you,’” says Sister. “All the acclaims and awards pale in significance when it comes to the joy of seeing these children prosper and thrive.”
Sister and George have five children: Charlotte, Chrissie, Laura, Evans and Alex and seven grandchildren. Sister loves working on needlepoint and being at home spending time with her children and grandchildren; she also still loves to be in the kitchen cooking-and baking Gommey’s (now very famous) rolls.