If it wasn’t for the support of the community and a riff on the Pop-Tart, Sugar Bakeshop wouldn’t have survived the past 16 months. The Popster—a heavily frosted vegan pastry available in flavors like brown sugar maple and lemon lavender—has been a bestseller at the bakery since its birth in 2008, but the treat’s popularity during the pandemic made an even greater impact on the business. “The Popster helped keep us alive during COVID-19,” says Natalie Slevin, Sugar Bakeshop’s owner-baker. “We made thousands of them by hand last year.”
In early March 2020, business was booming for the bakery. Slevin says she had 16 employees working on wholesale accounts, retail sales, and catering gigs for weddings before the pandemic swept the nation. “And then everything got quiet. Forty weddings were cancelled and all the coffee shops we supplied closed, too,” she says. “I was forced to lay off everybody.”
After Sugar Bakeshop was deemed an essential business, it reopened after a two-week closure with a short and sweet (literally) online menu featuring a star attraction: the Popster. Orders immediately started pouring in from customers stuck at home, which allowed Slevin to hire back a core group of four employees
“We wanted to keep going because of the community and our group. During all those months, at least we had our COVID bubble at work. I knew I had someone to talk to as we faced everything,” she says of her team.
Bit by bit, wholesale and retail business returned, along with a realization that inspired Slevin to re-evaluate the bakery’s mission. “We had always supported the community, but COVID had silenced us. Then, the George Floyd murder took place during the summer of 2020 and we couldn’t celebrate Pride Month,” she says. “We all felt so fired up and we needed to be loud.”
A renewed dedication to activism led Sugar Bakeshop to make Black Lives Matter–themed cookies and donate sales to nonprofits like Black Girl Ventures, an organization committed to creating access to capital for women entrepreneurs of color. Cookies supporting the LGBTIQ+ community and Stop AAPI Hate movement—and a “Boob Cake” decorated with pink icing breasts of diverse shapes and sizes to celebrate International Women’s Day—followed. Then, to honor Pride Month in June, the bakery sold boxes of pastries decorated in rainbow hues.
It’s not surprising that some of Slevin’s issue-driven creations have attracted a lot of Instagram attention—including mostly supportive comments. “Someone asked on social media if we were trying to make a political statement. Of course we were!” she says. “I’m not going to sit back when these things are happening outside our door. If we can give back a little and give someone a little hope, then we need to do it.”
Slevin’s approach to inclusivity and embracing community is rooted in her family’s Greek heritage—welcoming everyone to the table is second nature, she says.
Sugar Bakeshop is now selling Popsters, cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and other treats (Slevin’s favorite is the Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert with berries and whipped cream) for takeout only, Friday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also pick up Sugar Bakeshop’s goods at several local cafes, including Novo Coffee, Middle State Coffee, and Black Eye Coffee.
Offering on-site retail sales on weekends allows the Sugar Bakeshop team to greet their many fans and supporters in person, important connections that drove Slevin to launch the bakery 13 years ago.
“I opened this place because I wanted everyone to come in and feel safe. I wanted them to be able to look me in the eyes,” she says. “You don’t get into baking to become rich. You do it to feed people.”
277 Broadway, 720-458-5432