Interview: Having our cake and eating it too
Sundays hold special childhood memories for me.
Sunday was the day my mother cooked our big Sunday dinner and baked some delectable treat. And then there was me, sitting in the corner of our kitchen, Sunday comics in hand. I was at that time a most reticent helper (anything that deterred my nose being stuck in a book was a bother)…like the family kitten, happy to curl my tail up near the warmth.
To me, that’s where the action was; the warmest place in the house. The place where we gathered to share, discover and devour some loveliness concocted by Mommy. There was my mother with her trusty recipe book always bursting at its seams, full of hand written family recipes tried and true. Others, written by some colleague on some scrap of paper, jutted out here and there. She would spin her cakes with such ease, adding this or that. When done, I never minded when she interrupted my reading to lick the bowl, a teaser for the deliciousness to come.
It was love at first bite for me. Expect a friendly greeting, a detailed listing of all the goodies available and an all-out feeling of being in a place you can ‘curl-up in’.
When I left my parents’ house, the good ol’ American cake shop took the place of the family kitchen – for desserts, that is. A place I can easily sit for hours, book in hand or chatting with friends accompanied by lovely cups of tea and delicious dessert to go along.
Recently, fellow My French Life™ contributor and friend Milla raved about Paris cake shop Sugarplum and suggested it as a meeting place. I was excited for a new discovery in the 5ème which remains one of my favorite quartiers on the rive gauche.
It was love at first bite for me. Expect a friendly greeting, a detailed listing of all the goodies available and an all-out feeling of being in a place you can ‘curl-up in’. It is a convivial, creative and inviting atmosphere where you will see students studying, families, friends and lovers catching up all among the buzz of the Sugarplum fairies themselves.
Sugarplum specialize in cakes, from weddings to birthdays and everything creative (including pop-out cakes) in between.
You will find café favorites such as freshly baked cookies, brownies & pies, iced teas, freshly brewed coffee and a lovely range of teas. And they don’t stop there; they specialize in cakes, from weddings to birthdays and everything creative (including pop-out cakes) in between. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve been featured in Vogue Italia and have some other major collaborations in the pipeline. What stands out to me is that three foreigners have been able to create this delectable haven here in Paris where you and I can have our own coffee shop experience and can ‘eat our hearts out’ while at it.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Laurel Sanderson, who takes care of ‘everything else‘. Laurel works alongside head chef Taylor McLoughlin, and head decorator Krista Juracek. Together the three of them own and run Sugarplum.
Where are you from and what was your background before moving here?
I’m from South Carolina. I was 20 when I moved here to learn French, so it’s been 16 years now. My background is in linguistics, event planning, theatre and I was even in a band. I tried my hand at a few things while trying to settle into my French life.
First baking memory?
I remember baking pie with my mom, she had a special way of thinking about pie which we go by here. She would say “Pie is about the fruit, it shouldn’t be about sugar… let the fruit talk!” She got recipes from other people and tried them, and we are inspired by that.
How did the three of you meet?
We met while we were all working in a bakery outside Paris. We bonded over work and about being expats in France. Krista is from Nebraska and Taylor is from Vancouver. When the business closed in July of 2009, we decided to act upon our shared dream of owning our own business.
By this time July 2009 we were no longer working at the bakery, Krista wrote a business plan, we needed to find a location, find backing and none of us had a business background. It was just the three of us putting our heads together. My husband helped us to find an accountant. We’d worked in a kitchen before so we knew what equipment we would need. Our location was confirmed in mid-August and loan approved in September.
“I remember baking pie with my mom… She would say “Pie is about the fruit, it shouldn’t be about sugar… let the fruit talk!” She got recipes from other people and tried them, and we are inspired by that.”
Then there was the work to be done on converting the earthen floor in the kitchen space and other modifications and registering with the artisans guild. There was a lot of logistics to take care of but it was very cool the way everything came together. Taylor re-upholstered every chair which we bought for under 10 euros at charity sales to give them a second home. We coordinated on everything from picking the pink color outside in the front. We were just really lucky, we have similar styles but sometimes they are not identical. The whole process took less than a year. We opened our doors March 25th 2010.
You have an amazing location in the lovely 5ème… how difficult was that?
I already lived in the neighborhood and my husband noticed that the space was available and we inquired about it. It’s a bit off the beaten path but people find us, we even have loyal clients who come from the 16th arrondissement.
It was Taylor who proposed the name. We had a long list, as you can imagine with three opinionated women, but finally came to the agreement that Sugarplum was a good fit. We thought if we could make it through deciding on a name, we could make it through anything. We knew we wanted it to be a cake shop, not a bakery. The name made sense since the sugarplum fairy is the sovereign of sweets!
Cupcakes and American style cake shops are getting quite the buzz in Paris, how is Sugarplum set apart from the rest?
Cupcakes for me come from the Piggly Wiggly (a supermarket chain in the US). When I eat a cupcake I am 8 years old with a Bandaid on my knee on roller skates. We make cupcakes but we appreciate it for what we remember it being… as something we ate at birthday parties at roller rinks, something sweet. They have a place at the table with American pastry.
There is enough clientèle to go around but we do believe in dominating the world, one cake at a time (jokingly). Everybody has their thing.
“The name made sense since the sugarplum fairy is the sovereign of sweets!”
Is there anything you don’t do?
We don’t make cupcake wedding cakes. We make cakes and wedding cakes. It’s all about the cakes, pies. That is our niche.
Where do you recipe inspirations come from?
All of us contribute recipes that we’ve ‘borrowed’ from our mothers, aunts and grandmothers. Everything is made from scratch and we put special emphasis on the freshness and quality of our ingredients.
Laurel, you’re self-taught. How would you describe your experience with learning to bake?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was by my sister who said “You just need to bake everyday” – just like with becoming a writer. We try to be creative and open to trying new things: what ingredient is going to go with what? Recipes are guidelines. We may try ten recipes but always try to make it our own.
Who are your patrons?
We have neighborhood folks, a little of everybody: grandmas, research students, moms and expatriates from all corners of the world. We make sure that no customer can get into a rut; we mix up our menu – except that there is always carrot cake. But that’s not a bad rut to be in.
Most original order so far?
A pagoda wedding cake and a pop out cake that a dancer from The Crazy Horse came out of.
Most popular request?
What is a day in the life of a Sugarplum fairy like?
The kitchen starts at 6am… the boutique opens at 10am. I spend a lot of time answering emails, responding to questions and orders. Taylor and Krista get in at 9 or so. Baking is ongoing during the day. We make lunch and eat together which is really nice… at 2pm things start to get buzzing.
“We make sure that no customer can get into a rut; we mix up our menu – except that there is always carrot cake. But that’s not a bad rut to be in.”
Laurel, you’re on the phone, greeting customers, serving customers, you bake too. You’re everywhere. You’re a mommy of two and a wife, how do you keep it together?
I have a great team with my husband. It’s about scheduling: I work a manageable 70 hours a week, my kids go to school not far away and we live in the neighborhood so they can stop by when they want. I go home and put on my mom cap. It’s a lot of juggling but my husband takes care of a lot too.
What do you do with your free time?
This is lame but I love to watch bad television shows and quilting helps me to decompress.
Desert island dessert?
Favorite French pastry?
A good grainy baguette with a nice crusty shell, our local boulanger Daniel Blavette at 16 Rue Mouffetard is great.
“My Paris life is enchanting… I am by no means wealthy but I am rich in love.”
Carrot cake baking and Mondays because that’s the day we are closed and experimenting in the kitchen.
What are you passionate about?
Any advice for foreigners who dream of opening a business in ‘The City of Lights’?
It’s a lot of administrative paperwork; my advice is to think paper by paper, form by form. But it can be done. I had no idea I was going to work this hard. Keep your smile in your pocket and have a positive outlook and partners. I could not have done this without Taylor and Krista.
My Paris life is…
Enchanting, it’s not easy, but I live five minutes from where I work and my children go to school at the bottom of the hill, I never leave this hill. I am lucky. I am by no means wealthy but I am rich in love.
A special thanks to Laurel, Taylor and Krista for sharing their story.Sugarplum Cake Shop
68 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Phone : (33) 01 46 34 07 43
Metro: Cardinal Lemoine or Place Monge