BY REBECCA BENNETT — Sugar Vault Desserts is preparing to open a dessert dreamland bakery and café at 5606 Baltimore Avenue later this year. And cupcakes will not be the only treat for sale. Owner Jennifer Powell said the variety of baked goods for immediate purchase will include cheesecake, cookies, cake slices, chocolate covered strawberries and pretzels, and more. Custom desserts will be available at the store by request.
The Sugar Vault Desserts website presents images of custom chocolate-covered strawberries in any number of colors, accented by hand painting or dusting. It displays cupcakes whose decadent flavors include those inspired by ice cream and Girl Scout cookies, lemon black raspberry, key lime pie, chocolate mocha and even some infused with alcohol. Customers will also find chocolate covered Rice Krispie treats, gorgeous custom cakes and other luxurious desserts.
The story of how Sugar Vault came about is a simple one: the region demanded this local resident stop everything and bake treats for everyone. Powell, who started baking as a hobby in 2007, would sells treats from her desk at her day job. She said her supply would sell out by lunch and she would have pre-orders for the next day.
“I knew it was time to open a bakery [when] wherever I went people looked for my desserts. So I started bringing treats wherever I would go,” she said. She eventually started to leave work early just to go home and bake.
Powell launched Sugar Vault in 2010 and when she wasn’t baking for others, she was baking to teach herself new techniques. She said she enjoyed the supplemental income from baking, but after a year or two, the requests for desserts were coming in back to back. She began by baking only on the weekends, but eventually changed her full-time work hours and started using her vacation time to fill orders.
“My bosses were fully aware of Sugar Vault and they would approve my leave for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Powell said.
In 2014, she left her job to focus on Sugar Vault.
“When the news got out that I was resigning to focus on and grow Sugar Vault, the orders doubled then tripled. As of today [early April], I am booked into July with a waiting list for custom orders,” she said.
Her one-woman operation operates out of her home in College Park, but she rents out kitchen space for large orders. She said when it gets busy during the holidays, her mother, sisters and friends usually come to help out. “If I am really exhausted, my friends will volunteer to come clean up,” she said.
Powell said that in addition to family and friends who have been supportive of her venture, customers have helped out as well. For example, Powell said the turnout was more than expected at a November dessert tasting, even though she hired staff. “Customers who I knew, they started helping. They even stayed behind to clean-up. I’m just really thankful for all the support from everyone,” she said.
It took over a year to find the right location for Sugar Vault, Powell said. “I chose Hyattsville because it’s close to home and I wanted to stay within my community. … The Art District offers that young professional, upbeat, city and family environment that I wanted.”
She said she first focused on Howard County and Washington, DC, where the majority of her customers live. She realized it did not make sense to leave her loyal customer base and central location in Prince George’s County.
Her search for the right space continued in College Park. At the end of summer 2015, she considered two spaces: one in College Park and one in Hyattsville. Thinking that 5606 Baltimore Avenue was already taken, she almost signed a letter of intent for the College Park space, but held back. She eventually came back around to the space at 5606 Baltimore Avenue and signed a lease.
Powell said one of her biggest lessons was that she couldn’t build Sugar Vault overnight. “I had to humble myself and accept the change…the good and the bad. When I first left my job, I thought I was going to open my bakery within 6 months. … It took almost a year just to find the perfect space.”
According to Powell, running a business is not as easy as everyone thinks. “My customers set my schedule. I’m on the clock 16 to 18 hours a day. I catnap during the holidays just to fill orders,” she said. “There’s really no down time. When I’m not baking, I’m working behind the scenes preparing for the bakery.”
“I enjoy every minute of it all and it’s the most rewarding feeling,” she said.
For more information and for more photos of Powell’s creations, visit www.sugarvaultdesserts.com