Danielle Luisi simply thought she was making a birthday cake for a friend; little did she know, it would lead to a career.
After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, New York-based Luisi moved to St. Louis, where she met fellow chef Ashley Shelton, who was – and is currently back again – working for the award-winning chef Lou Rook III at Annie Gunn’s. Rook tasted the birthday cake and subsequently offered Luisi a job.
She immediately got to work, creating the pastry program at the esteemed restaurant, where she worked for seven years before launching Sweet Pea’s Bakery in Maryland Heights, Missouri. The wholesale bakery provides delectable treats to local restaurants that don’t have the capacity for an in-house pastry chef, including Annie Gunn’s, Carmine’s Steak House, Lombardo’s Trattoria and DD Mau; you can also find select sweets at Straub’s Markets. As the holiday season gets underway, Luisi says she has a few special desserts up her sleeve as well.
Why did you decide to launch Sweet Pea’s Bakery as a wholesale bakery instead of a storefront? I started this on my own. I don’t have investors, and I don’t have partners. I started doing it while I was still working full-time – it was the smartest way to build up the business. The plan is to [add a] café and then always have wholesale. Usually people start with retail because it brings in the most income, but it also takes the most capital. I kind of did it the old-school American-dream way, slowly paying for everything myself, so I own everything. I’m going to have to wait a couple of years to get there – and obviously the pandemic totally put a stick in the bicycle wheel.
How has the pandemic affected business? I’ve been using the time for research and development. I’ve worked on new flavor profiles, [experimenting with] everything from mousses to vegan and gluten-free items. It’s a good time to try to make the best of it financially, [and] because of the way I built this place – and because it’s just me and one other person – I was able to hunker down and cut expenses.
How do you develop your desserts? Usually I base them off of the season. I try to go as local as I can and use farmers like Tony White, [founder and CEO of Tony’s Family Farms in Chesterfield, Missouri], or depending on what chef Lou wants. So, what’s seasonal, what people want; everyone wants pumpkin at some point – that’s probably our bestseller during the holidays.
How can people order Sweet Pea’s desserts for the holidays? The chocolate-caramel gooey butter cake and vanilla gooey butter cake will be [available] at Straub’s. We’re also fine-tuning our website; people can order cookie platters, the eight-inch gooey butter cakes, the caramel-pecan bar tart – we have all the retail options on there if people want to order them.
Sweet Pea’s Bakery, sweetpeasbakerycafe.com