In July of 2013 Kathryn Volpe started Sweet Pea Bakery, a home grown business that offers customers a selection of high quality traditional and paleo desserts. She is a self-proclaimed dessert snob who turned her love for sweets and a knack for making delicious confections into a fast growing business. I sat with Kathryn at the Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Crabtree Valley Mall to talk about Sweet Pea Bakery and the inspirational woman behind it.
RH: What products can Sweet Pea Bakery customers expect to see?
KV: We have our staples for both the classic and paleo items, but we are also constantly experimenting with mostly paleo items just because there are not a lot out there yet. We like to do a rotating feature – if it’s something we can ship we will include it on our website but if its something more delicate then you can find it in one of the cafés that we currently stock products for.
RH: Speaking of which, where can we find your products?
KV: Café Muertos in downtown Raleigh, and both Cup A Joe locations so on Hillsborough Street and in Mission Valley; and then also online, we ship everywhere across the US!
RH: Have you been seeing more of your online purchases grow vs. café? Where are most of your customers coming from?
KV: The cafés are a really reliable source because we provide them with standing orders once a week, and they will let me know if they need more or less of something. I would say that about 40% of our sales do come from online customers and that has transitioned from friends and family or friends of friends to people who I don’t even know and they will send it [Sweet Pea treats] to other people that are trying to detox or doing a Whole 30* diet. It is pretty cool that it has kind of been this ‘grassroots, word of mouth’ movement. *Sweet Pea Treats are not labeled Whole 30 approved but would make for a nice treat after completing the Whole 30 diet.
RH: Why did you decide to create paleo products?
KV: It was actually the idea of some of my friends who were paleo. I was a dessert snob for a long time, kind of a classicist thinking that you shouldn’t mess with what’s good. After having tried some recipes it just didn’t ‘do it’ for me because of the texture or they were just so far from the real thing. I decided to start tweaking and experimenting on my own and I found some stuff that I actually really liked. So I figured, if I liked it and I’m such a snob about it then other people would probably like it too.
RH: It’s true, I’ve tasted them myself and I’m really excited that you are making/selling them around the area. So what defines a baked good to be paleo?
KV: A paleo baked good is grain free, gluten free, refined sugar free and dairy free. Which sounds counter-intuitive to any kind of delicious baked good [laughing]; but because you use nut flours and natural sugar like maple syrup and honey they are actually really delicious.
RH: So you do orders for the cafés and your online business, do you also do catering or special events?
KV: We do! We sometimes sponsor cross fit events and have booths there. We have done a couple mini farmers markets and also specialty orders like birthday cakes. We made a really cool dinosaur cake for a young boy’s birthday that was a fun little thing to do.
About The Woman Behind Sweet Pea Bakery
Kathryn moved to Raleigh just over 2 years ago and fell in love with the city. She shares:
“I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I’ve lived a lot of places and Raleigh is just such a vibrant and encouraging town for a small business owner, especially for a female entrepreneur. I’ve found such awesome support here, and genuine, creative, go-getter people.”
Prior to starting Sweet Pea, Kathryn was a healthcare consultant who focused on revenue cycles. While it was incredibly rewarding, the actual work itself was not her calling and baking was always in the back of her mind. I asked her how she got her start in baking and she candidly shared a story of when she was a sophomore in high school:
“I had a bad day for some reason, some sophomore dramatic reason, and I just really wanted cookies when I came home. We had stuff in the house but nothing like a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. So I made them, I just found it really therapeutic to put everything together and then be rewarded immediately with this delicious treat. For some reason that really stuck with me. I started buying cookbooks and would make candies and put together Christmas treat boxes for friends, that would be my gift to everybody. I’d bake for 3 days and put these little homemade treats in a cute little package and give them out. And everyone loved it!”
Kathryn continued baking birthday cakes for friends throughout college out of dorm kitchens; after graduating she began to make cakes for her co-workers in her corporate job baking their favorite flavors. She explained that baking would energize her no matter when or where she was doing it, and that was very telling. Her 4 year anniversary came around at her company and it felt like time had flown. Kathryn soon realized that she should be there for 10 years and not even realize it, she knew how disappointed in herself she would be if she never tried to do something that she really loved. So with the support of her co-workers and the Raleigh community, Kathryn opened Sweet Pea Bakery.
One of the reasons Raleigh Happening was so interested in Sweet Pea is because of their selcetion of paleo offerings. I asked Kathryn why she chose to live a paleo lifestyle:
Mine was actually kind of a slow transformation. I was never the girl who wanted fried food. I was always a pretty healthy eater but as I got more into cross fit and realized my energy levels would change based on what I ate, I really could start feeling that in my body. I just started leaning more towards the paleo stuff, so swapping out sweet potatoes for bread… And then once I started eating strict paleo I realized how much food I actually ate and it was awesome! To sit down to a steak dinner with a salad and a sweet potato? [She smiles] What other diet can you do that on?! And you feel really good, you sleep well and then the next day you are energized. So it was just one of those things that once you try it you don’t really look back. Definitely cheat days are warranted but even then you think “ugh I feel weird now!”
As Kathryn has accomplished her dream of opening a bakery she must now focus on the future and what comes next for Sweet Pea. One of her toughest challenges comes from sorting the ideas and suggestions that have been presented to her. While an exciting issue to have, Kathryn is taking a step back to determine what would be the best fit for Sweet Pea in the long run. Another challenge is she faces is the need to grow her employee base. She is familiar with hiring for positions in a corporate environment but hiring for your own company is a whole different ‘beast’.
She is currently working on the next step for Sweet Pea to plunge into and may one day write a cookbook or e-book. Kathryn even mentioned the possibility of a storefront:
“I think for me to be truly pleased with what it would be, it would be Sweet pea paired with some ridiculously awesome coffee or a really great little food side that sells light paleo fare for lunch… I’m all about the baked goods but in order for me to feel fulfilled in a storefront I think it needs to be a little bit more than that.”
Kathryn does plan on growing the online side of her business because she believes in the importance of the paleo food movement. Why? Because she considers people who live a paleo lifestyle are transformed by it and it is relatively easy to do. She hopes to one day provide everybody access to a quality paleo baked good. Raleigh Happening is happy to have Sweet Pea in the area and look forward to watching them grow!
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