Debbie Weiner Interview
(Sugar Sweet Sunshine)
Back in April of 2002, Debbie Weiner had an idea for a bakery. She wanted a place that created a warm, cozy, fun, 60’s, 70’s vibe. A place where people could not only pick up their baked goods, but hang out as well.
In the Summer of 2002, Debbie Weiner put her idea to paper and by the winter of 2003, Debbie Weiner’s Sugar Sweet Sunshine had opened it’s doors.
Debbie Weiner talked to us about her bakery.
Q – Debbie, can you explain this cup-cake craze that seems to be sweeping Manhattan? What’s going on anyway?
A – (Laughs) Well, I think what happened is a lot of people that liked to bake started to see the trend of cup-cake places opening up and decided if they like to bake why not give it a try? Cupcakes seemed like a very easy thing to bake and people always have a memory about cup-cakes growing up as a kid. So, I think everyone decided to get on the bandwagon and said, ‘I’m just an amateur baker but this looks like a really fun thing to do. I’m tired of working for someone else. Let me give it a try’.
Q – You and your business partner Peg both worked at Magnolia Bakery?
A – We did.
Q – Were you baking there or were you counter help?
A – We were just counter help. We really had no clue about baking back then. (Laughs). We were un-employed actresses.
Q – You originally wanted to be an actress then?
A – Yeah. We wanted to come out here and do theatre and in the interim sort of work a job that is fun and make enough money for food, clothing and shelter.
Q – Do you get famous actors and actresses through your bakery?
A – We get some here and there. The Lower East Side is just now starting to become a go to area neighbourhood. When we opened almost 8 years ago it was still sort of an untouched, untapped neighbourhood. So we’ve had a few people come in over the years.
Q – Would you recognize them?
A – Some of them I know. I’m sure that some of my younger staff have come up to me and said, ‘So and so from Project Runway was here’ and I would have no idea who they are. But you do get a Leonardo DiCaprio or Janet Jackson, you kind of know those people. (Laughs).
Q – And they’ve come through?
A – Yeah. I think they just stumble upon us.
Q – You didn’t have a lot of money to start this business. Was it expensive to launch?
A – We took out a Small Business Loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. So, when we started up back 8 years ago I’m sure the dollar isn’t what it was back then. We probably over-budgeted. We probably got more money than we needed from the bank because we were amateurs and sort of guessed how much money we would need. We figured out how much an oven would be or we knew searching around the cases to put the cup-cakes in, the basics that we knew we were going to need. I think it’s definitely hard to say we’re going to need this amount of money, straight out when you’ve never done it before. We just kind of took a wild guess how much we would need.
Q – Peg has more hands on baking experience than you do?
A – No. We pretty much started together in the trenches. Peg really knew how to ice cakes. I sort of learned as we went along. As far as baking we both sort of taught ourselves in my apartment. That’s where we started.
Q – How many hours a day does it take to keep this business going? Do you ever have time to just relax?
A – (Laughs). You know, 8 years ago when we started, it was just us. It was just the two of us almost for the first year and a half. There was no time to relax. Now, we’re 8 years into our business and we do have staff that does the baking so them we can concentrate on growing the business in front of the store. So, it definitely is much more relaxed, but, we’re open 7 days a week so there’s not a lot of down time. 14 hours a day. Now at least we can take a break, a quick lunch if we need to.
Q – What kind of a corporate job did you have before you opened this bakery?
A – I worked in an ad agency. I did their finances for 4 years.
Q – Sounds like a pretty good job.
A – It was a good job given that it was a small, boutique advertising agency. I got lucky. I had a friend who was working there at the time. I got in at sort of the height of the Dot Com’s. People were paying a lot of money and so I had a good responsibility, a good salary that allowed me 2 years later to think about opening up the bakery.
Q – How would you like to see this business progress?
A – I think it would be nice eventually to expand to another store. I don’t necessarily if that means Manhattan because it’s become so saturated with bakeries. I would maybe ideally love to be able to take Sugar Sweet Sunshine outside of the United States. I think that would be our total dream to maybe expand to some place like Japan.
Q – How then would you be able to keep an eye on quality control? You couldn’t be here and there?
A – Right. No, we couldn’t. It would have to be obviously a slightly different business model, ‘cause here you have 2 owner/operator people and every single day we’re here. We really would have to go set up shop and train people and find people that had the same philosophy that we thought we could trust. We really would have to put our faith in that, that they would be conducting the business the way we would want it to be. I think mostly for us it would be to take this to a place that really doesn’t have anything like this, in the sense that I don’t think we’re really just a cupcake shop. We’re a full-scale coffee, tea, espresso bar. So, it would be nice to bring that someplace that doesn’t have that.
Q – But really cup-cakes is the emphasis isn’t it?
A – It certainly is my big business absolutely. Without a doubt. It draws people in.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved