It was an unexpected twist that brought sisters Danielle Bonaparte and Karima Goodman together to open their gourmet bakery in Grayson, Ga. The two come from opposite ends of the professional spectrum, but their unique skill sets were just the right recipe for “Sweet Brown Suga”.
A five-star award-winning chef, Karima, CEO of Sweet Brown Suga, brought the culinary genius. She cultivated the skill at culinary school, gained experience at a cafe back in Philadelphia, and tried new ideas aboard a cruise ship in Hawaii. Working at the Ritz Carlton, she found her way to Atlanta and eventually started a baking business out of her home.
Danielle brought the ‘book smarts’, serving at the bakery’s CFO. She has more than 22 years of experience in the finance industry and started helping Karima take weekend catering orders until the demand grew too large to be a side gig.
“There came a point when we were so busy that we had to decide whether we were going to stop altogether, or if we were going forward with it as our fulltime profession,” said Danielle, Brown Sugar’s CFO.
Two years in, the sisters know they’ve done the right thing.
“We were surprised by just how well the community of Grayson received us. It started as us filling a void. No one had a place to go and participate in family functions and eat gourmet desserts without going downtown,” Danielle said.
While the chef’s advanced skill is showcased in eye-candy like wedding cakes and decorative pastries, Sweet Brown Suga offers an assortment of everyday goodies.
When asked what their most popular item is, both sisters said in unison, “Butter bars.”
“They’re not quite a cookie, not exactly a brownie. And they’re not pie either. They’re just butter bars,” Karima said of the crumbly treat with a creamy filling that comes in flavors including chocolate, pecan pie, banana pudding, and lemon.
“A lot of the items here are just things I liked that I brought from all the different places I’ve been,” Karima said. “I got a lot of ideas from the bakery I worked at in Philly, but I always make them my own.”
Karima knew she had to add a café element to the business – “That’s how they do it in Philly,” she explained. Offering iced coffee and deli items including chicken salad, soup, and sandwiches, Karima and Danielle receive orders for corporate lunches, Bible studies and more.
There is a personal touch to the small bakery café with chic “French farmhouse” décor. From the vintage furniture which the sisters painted and refurbished themselves, to Karima’s colorful apron hanging from the wall, it tells the story of how they started.
The owners are preparing to take Sweet Brown Suga to a new level of sophistication and elegance with a second location in Loganville. The venue is a grand house built in the 1800s with plenty of space for catering events and weddings.
"The new location will look very different and have a totally different feel,” Danielle said of the newly renovated venue next-door to the House of Finery in Loganville. “Of course, we are going to add a few things so you can tell you’re still in a Sweet Brown Suga bakery, but the atmosphere will be different.”
With a staff of experienced bakers and youth from local high schools, the sisters will provide the same service along with their tried and true menu at both of their bakeries.
And when it comes to creating elaborate cakes, they’re always open to unusual requests.
“If you can think about it, we can just about do it,” said Karima who has established her renown as sugar artist being crowned Iron Chef at the Ritz Carlton in the spring and summer of 2009.
Clients tend to test her creativity. For a Cajun family reunion, one asked for a crab broil cake, which she brought to life with sugary crabs trying to climb out of the stew pot made of fondant. She designed a cake to look like a Santa’s Toy Delivery box, and one time, she sculpted a grooms cake to look like a fish jumping out the water. Their client was giving it to her fiancé, saying she was “his catch.”
Being part of their celebrations as well as their everyday routines, Karima and Danielle feel a personal connection with the community of Grayson.
“We’ve become part of them, and they’ve become part of us because our regulars who come in here every week have created our culture and pushed us to constantly do better,” Danielle said.
As mothers and business owners, Danielle and Karima lean on their faith daily. They draw support from their families and from their prayer circle at 12 Stone Church.
And as they prepare to launch their second location, they are confident they will continue to bring their A-game. After all, two is better than one.