Southern Pigskin

The Sweet Story of Ben Hall

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By BJ Bennett
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Not long after he was serving up pancake blocks as a “Y” tight end, Ben Hall now serves the community as an accomplished self-taught pastry chef.

The last college football game of Ben Hall’s Clemson career was the Peach Bowl in 2004, a 27-14 win for the Tigers over Tennessee. It’s a fitting flashback for the former tight end, one that now has a literal application about an hour from campus. Hall, who also played in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans, has transitioned to a very successful post-football career. Not long after he was serving up pancake blocks as a “Y” tight end, Hall now serves the community with wondrous and imaginative treats as an accomplished self-taught pastry chef.

Hall is the owner and operator of the ever-popular “Big Ben’s Desserts” in Welford, South Carolina, located just outside of Spartanburg. Offering whole cakes, cake slices, cupcakes, ice cream, ice cream sudaes and other mouth-watering treats, his location has in-house dining but is, inarguably, one of the area’s most popular delivery options. So much so that Hall, in a full-circle development that has come on a hosting platter, has delivered personalized cakes to the football seniors at Clemson in recent seasons.

“It’s something I do every year now. I look forward to it,” Hall smiled. “They don’t want regular vanilla cakes with a Clemson paw on it, they want red velvet, lemon pound, double chocolate, key lime, strawberry shortcake. You’re talking about making 30-40 cakes in 24 hours. I deliver them up to the field and it’s always a good time meeting the coaches and players. Just that once a year vibe, I get to get some personal time with the team.”

What is amazing about Hall’s rise to baking for champions is that it wasn’t always part of the plan. Former Titans’ teammate and roommate Ben Troupe says their kitchen was “never used”. Long passionate about cooking, but not necessarily ever anticipating a full-time role, his interests, over time, ultimately focused in on desserts. After years of training for football, Hall, well-versed in the notion of identifying a goal and working towards it, realized his dreams with determination and persistence once again. He put his gloves back on, though this time a little bit differently.

It all started, as many smiles and stories do in the Deep South, with banana pudding. Hall’s beloved signature dish, the demand for his banana pudding came with a deep confidence for a man hungry for more and opened up the door for further opportunities, somewhat-surprisingly, a post-football career included. From there, yards were replaced by yeast as Hall’s ultimate measure. He has been off and running ever since.

Though few may have anticipated Hall’s transition from tight end to pastry chef, he sees a direction parallel between what he used to do and all that he does now.

“I think the qualities that football gave me led me right into being an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur on a daily basis takes heart, courage, hard work, practice. So I think I was built to jump out into this scene and last a long time because it takes an incredible amount of focus and dedication to the craft,” he shared. “I feel like it could have been a lot of different things that could have got my attention and I could have devoted who I am to that particular venture.”

A persistence that has always been there, for Hall, is a now on colorful and creative display on each plate.

“What makes it special is that it is baking, something that nobody in the world would have ever thought I would be doing,” Hall continued. “That is the funny part of it. I love when people from my past ask me what is going on now and find out that I’m baking; they are like ‘wow, I gotta come try this, I can’t believe this’.”

Competition, mind you, very much remains. Hall still trains tirelessly to be the best, with, ingredients meeting exact specifics, literally no margin for error. From preparation to working with a team to delivering when the bright lights are on, Hall actually sees a lot of football in baking. The same energy, in fact, is what motivates him. The glory of Saturday now extends Tuesday through Sunday, with Big Ben’s Desserts open until 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights.

“I just work hard each day. I love trying new things. Baking is a science. It’s something that you can’t get wrong. You get one time to put it in the oven and that’s it. There is a lot of pressure, but I like that,” Hall nodded. “It’s the one thing that I’m doing outside of football reminds me of getting ready for a game. It gives me those butterflies still.”

As was the case during his time at Clemson, Hall, dedicated and relentless, just keeps coming. New ideas and innovations are his hallmark. He, in addition to offering classic traditional favorites and always properly honoring the aforementioned banana pudding, has experimented with coconut, strawberry lemonade pound, peanut butter and pineapple island cakes, the latter becoming a a recent local obsession. Furthermore, a honey bun cake, served hot, is an especially-striking option.

The end result of Hall’s new line of work remains a lot of cheering fans in the upstate.

“Every single product, other than the ice cream, sells out every single day. I make it fresh and I make an abundance of it. I just can’t make enough of it. It’s a good feeling,” Hall beamed.

So much of what Hall does is simply about making people happy. With his tasty treats and Clemson’s modern-day dynasty, “Big Ben’s Desserts” is a spot with both all the flavors and feels. The journey to 297 Spartanburg Highway is one where Hall has thought about a lot along the way. He makes it a point to give back, a point to talk to fans and players when he returns to campus and is eager to share more than just sugar and spice.

Known for saying “it’s bigger than me”, Hall is a man of faith and foundation. The introductory paragraph on his personal section of the “Big Ben’s Desserts” website offers the following: “‘Big Ben’s Desserts’ is my platform to give back to my community and give to humanity. I am the change that I want to see in the world; and I find my most sacred moments in speaking to others to share my quest of continued knowledge, growth in self, perseverance in hard work and joy in the journey. I strive that what I contribute through everything that I do, from playing professional football to now baking cakes, will spark an inspiration in any person who hears my story or sees the manifestation of my hard work.”

Hall’s best side may be his perspective.

“I call it going pro at whatever you want to be in life. You can go pro as a doctor, or a lawyer or a full-time dad. Anything you want to go pro in, you can do it. That’s my message to the kids,” Hall shared. “Football is amazing and it’s a great opportunity and it can get you a lot of things in life, but also understand what your passion is and find out what other gifts you have and how you can bless someone else by utilizing that.”

Now when he sees others enjoying the fruits of his labor, it comes with sweet satisfaction for him as well.

“It’s crazy, my passion for people and kids is what drove me to baking,” Hall reflected. “I needed an outlet, I needed an entrepreneurial route to be able to give more, to give back to my community. So I started teaching myself how to bake. I’ve never been to school and have never been taught anything, just straight kitchen hours. I started putting in the work and trial and error has gotten me to where I am.”

Hall has chased his dreams, even as those goals have changed. He has the scars and sweeteners to prove it.

BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’s founder and publisher. He is the co-host of “Three & Out” with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the “Southern Pigskin Radio Network”. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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