Blame it on childhood but for many of us, there is an ingrained delight in dessert. There’s the expectation and anticipation. We finish our broccoli for the promise of a wedge of cake, a scoop of ice cream, heck, a pile of cookies. Birthday cakes are presented to us via waltz and song, with candles or sparklers. What other type of food has its own pedestal, after all? And what goes better with designer cakes than a cup of fresh coffee? Enter the bakery cafe, the modern construct that invites you to stop and smell the royal icing roses, then sit and relax, and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, too.
While baked goods have always been a treat for the eyes, today with our smartphone cameras at the ready, the setting, packaging, experience, and presentation are more important than ever. For many of us, the chance to play amateur food stylist is part of the fun, and savvy business owners do the same, luring us in with images of smiling patrons and bouquets of cake pops, knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Around South County there are many charming places where you can delight in glass cases and counters stocked with colorful confections, and of course stage and snap a quick pic before savoring each bite. What better month than February to chat with a few proprietors – each with “sweet” in their business’s name – who make their bread and butter with flour and sugar.
Kim Curtis has owned Sweet Althea’s Coffee House and Cakery for eight years. Located in Wakefield, the flourishing enterprise relocated in July of 2018 from Main Street to the Quo Vadis Plaza on Kingstown Road to increase its footprint; it was the second move for the popular spot named for a Grateful Dead song. As with her previous locations, Curtis has created a “laidback and comfy vibe” inside with plenty of seating – perfect for pairing a treat with a hot cup of a custom blend of Dave’s Coffee, roasted in nearby Narragansett, taste-tested and picked by Curtis herself.
Trained at JWU, Curtis explains that her specialty is custom cakes, evident by a peek at her Instagram feed, but one item in particular has become quite popular. “Scones. Scones have taken over!” she exclaims. “We offer seven to nine varieties of scones made from scratch every day, as well as other assorted pastries and cookies depending on what’s in season.” Fans of Curtis’s cake artistry need not worry – Sweet Althea’s has a lengthy menu from which to choose, including gluten-free and vegan options.
“When people walk through the door, I want to make them feel like they are on vacation or a place they can feel happy,” says Kerri “Cupcake” Fusco, of her business Sweet Indulgence. Even on a dreary February afternoon, the interior is bright and welcoming in a colorway of ballet slipper pink and white, with modern frilly touches. “The reason I chose the color pink is because no matter if you are a man or a woman, pink is a very happy and soothing color that will help drop all of your troubles at the door,” says Fusco of her Parisian-themed cafe, adding that “pink champagne is one of our most sought after original cakes.”
In the bakery world, Fusco is a bit of a sugar-coated rock star with nearly 40,000 followers on Facebook and 17.2k on Instagram. Her newsfeed is a pastel grid of whimsical cakes, rows of sprinkled cookies, and even shots of local Influencers like Laura Afonso of Buns & Bites. Anyone who visits Sweet Indulgence can tell you that there’s substance behind all of that style, and everything from soup to cake pops are as delectable as they are photo-worthy. While currently located in Pawtuxet Village, the cafe will soon be moving to Warwick.
It was a slice of carrot cake whoopie pie that transformed self-described “longtime coffee shop fan” James Creighton into the owner of Sweet Cakes in Peace Dale. The caliber of that very item stopped him in his tracks. “It was delicious and of a quality that I hadn’t found in many other cafes. I was hooked,” he says. Creighton learned that difference was that everything was made from scratch, a tradition he’s continued since taking ownership in 2011. “We measure and weigh and mix and bake what we sell. It is time consuming and more costly to do this, but it shows in the results.”
With its red shingles and window boxes, Sweet Cakes is picture-perfect New England. Originally, Jim was going to rename the business Sad and Beautiful World Cafe but took the advice of the previous owners to continue on the branding they had built. “We have a small, cozy front room with seating for eight and a covered patio that gets a lot of seasonal use. We have regulars every morning for coffee and breakfast baking and we have some fans of our soups, salads and sandwiches at lunch time. There are also students who’ll use the free WiFi and have a tea or coffee with us. Our aim is to be a casual, comfortable place that offers a good value to our customers,” says Creighton. “I think we’re pretty good at doing that.”