Austin residents and customers from as far away as Atlanta filled a tiny storefront space on May 12 to get some cheesecakes and other pastries at Schweet Foods, 5051 W. Chicago Ave., officially opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Austin.
Schweet was founded by Camille and Brian Weddington. They started out online before taking their wares to markets and festivals throughout Chicago. They were the first tenants at the Boombox popup retail space, which launched last fall near the intersection of Chicago and Mayfield Avenues.
The weekend opening was the culmination of ambitions the married couple, both lifelong West Siders, have harbored for quite some time. It all started with a cheesecake recipe his wife learned from her grandmother. The couple took the recipe and "kind of made it our own," Brian said.
"We started out [cooking] for the holidays," he said. "[Then], we got a brilliant idea that we should make some money off of it."
The business started out exclusively online, with the couple selling several different kinds of cheesecakes and cupcakes. As the business took off, they started selling at various markets and events. Since spring of 2017, they have been taking part in the West Loop's Randolph Street Market — which is where Westside Health Authority officials discovered them.
Since 2017, the Authority has been operating Special Service Area 72, also known as Austin Village 72. The SSA includes a portion of Chicago Avenue, between Central and Kilpatrick Avenues, and a section of Cicero Avenue, between Rice and Ohio Streets.
As with other SSAs, all property owners pay extra on their property taxes to help fund improvements. Authority officials wanted Scheweet Foods to be part of the service area by having a brick-and-mortar presence in the corridor.
Brian said that, at first, he and his wife struggled with the idea, since it would be a major departure from the way they've done business. But after thinking and praying on it, he said, they decided that it would be a great way to support a community they've called home.
They first set up shop inside of the Austin Boombox, a pop-up retail space that was result of the collaboration between the Authority and the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA), the City of Chicago and Latent Design — a West Town-based architecture firm.
Their more permanent home is a small storefront area inside the Authority's administrative building. Brian said that the nonprofit prepared the space, installing plumbing. He added that AAABNA was instrumental in getting the word out about the business.
Quiwana Bell, the Authority's chief operating officer, said that Saturday's event was just the beginning.
"Right now, we're here in the community to say that there may be cheaper cheesecakes in Oak Park, but we want to support our community," she said. "We hope to have more ribbon-cuttings, because businesses are attracted to the Chicago corridor and the SSA. We want Austin Weekly News readers to come here and buy, see for yourselves — don't just read about it."
So far, Schweet Foods' storefront is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers can either purchase in-store or order online at www.schweetfoods.com) at least a day ahead of time. Customers can also order the cakes delivered to their homes via GrubHub, but only on Fridays and Saturdays.
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