Friday, November 4, 2016

At Sugar Sketch, a new bakery on 2nd Street

Photos and interview by Stacie Joy

Sugar Sketch opened earlier this fall at 172 E. Second St. between Avenue A and Avenue B. I recently stopped by the bakery to speak with Martina Nardo, owner and cake designer.

[Owner Martina Nardo]

Where did the name Sugar Sketch come from?

Sugar Sketch started as a cake design shop. I launched the company in 2013, and I was only taking orders online. I would rent kitchens around the city to bake and assemble my cakes. Before it became Sugar Sketch, the name was Cakely Ever After, but it was never finalized with an LLC, so it never became an official name. Also, clients were having a lot of trouble spelling it, and I would miss many emails because of this.

I came up with the name Sugar Sketch with the help of one of my best friends, writer Richard Lopez. When thinking of a name, we focused on the process involved in making a decorated cake: after discussing a theme with my clients, I usually make two or three sketches, each with a different technique, to give my clients several options in pricing. Once the client approves a sketch, I make it into a cake. “Sugar Sketch” came from this concept.

You’ve been in business since 2013. What made you decide to open a storefront business in the East Village now?

Two years ago I started working at Pip’s Place as a cake decorator. Pip’s was a great gluten-free bakery on the Upper East Side with truly delicious gluten-free treats. After a few months working there, Denise [the owner of Pip’s Place] and I decided to join forces and offer fondant-decorated gluten-free cakes.

I moved my tools into her second location in Murray Hill and together we launched this new idea. Pip’s Place baked gluten-free cake layers, and Sugar Sketch decorated them. At the new studio, I would decorate by the window, which attracted a lot of attention from people walking by. Within six months, orders had increased drastically, and I realized the importance of having a store front.

In July 2015, Denise decided to leave the food industry behind to take on new adventures, and I decided to open a storefront on my own. Gluten-free baking is very different from regular baking, and I didn’t feel comfortable offering a product I hadn’t had a lot of experience with, and that’s why I switched back to my own recipes, which are not gluten free. However, we are now working on a few gf flavors to expand our menu, and we hope to be able to include them by next year. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has Celiac disease, because Sugar Sketch is no longer certified gluten free.

[Counterperson and barista Bria Staley]

How has the process of opening a local small business been for you?

The past year has been incredible. It is without a doubt the hardest and most exciting project I have ever taken on, and although some days present challenges that seem too big to face, I am very proud of how I’m handling it all, and very excited about the future of Sugar Sketch.

This year has taught me a lot about myself; I believe it has been one of the most informative years of my life and I am looking forward to transforming and growing along with this business. Manhattan is definitely challenging — expenses are high, and New Yorkers are quite skeptical, but I am determined to make my way into their hearts! I truly believe that with consistency, determination, and very hard work anything can be accomplished.

This entire year wouldn’t have been possible without a strong team; I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. And of course, none of this would be possible without the endless support of my mom — she’s been my biggest fan from day one, witnessing and supporting my various breakdowns as well as all the happy moments, and I am so very grateful to have her by my side.

Sugar Sketch is the result of eight long years of endless hours in the kitchen, various chefs screaming and throwing silverware around, and many, many burnt croissants and deflated macaroons. I think the most important thing is to keep moving forward, learning from my mistakes and, most important, being open to changing, adjusting, and aiming to be better than the day before. I try to do this not only with my product, but also with the business itself. Biggest lesson I learned is to never take things personally and never become too attached to any given structure. Things will change for the better, and it’s important to keep an open mind.

What has been the reaction so far from the neighborhood?

The East Village is the best neighborhood! I really couldn’t have found a better location. The entire block has been incredibly warm and friendly and welcoming me to the neighborhood with flowers, cards, messages, and balloons. It is the first time since I moved to the States 12 years ago that I feel like I am truly a part of a community, and it is magical. I feel safe here, and at home.

You were born and raised in Italy. How is NYC different than Rome when it comes to pastries? How is it similar?

The biggest difference I have found between NYC and Rome is the amount of sugar used in desserts. I don’t love really sweet desserts, and my goal when I first launched Sugar Sketch was to offer a product that wasn’t too sweet. I have been adjusting my recipes for years, and I am always moving forward and thinking of new ways to improve my desserts. I have received a lot of feedback the past few weeks on this, and I am very happy to hear people are noticing this difference and enjoying it.

The Sugar Sketch hours are:
Monday - Closed
Tuesday-Thurssday — 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday — 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday — 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday — noon to 8 p.m.

Find Sugar Sketch on Instagram here


Anonymous said...

She had me at "not too sweet." I've been living in the US for 11 years now, but still can't get used to just how sweet sweets tend to be here, even from good-quality sources. The sugar so often overpowers other flavors. I'll check this place out some time and hope the owner will still sometimes decorate cakes in front of clients; that would be an interesting thing to see!

v said...

I popped in to look around recently.
Very nice owner and employee. Her cake designs are really FUN!

v said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

So nice to read about someone with her enthusiasm, which shines through in this interview. She's survived all the NYC bureaucracy requirements and is still smiling, which makes her a winner in my view!

It's great to have you in the East Village, Ms. Nardo!

Anonymous said...

Looks good..will check them out

Anonymous said...

Looks cute! I hope they make some dairy free too and not just focus on gluten free. Love to patronize them if they do.

Anonymous said...

I love the name. It stands out. Also, the pictures are wonderful. And, the owner seems gracious and hard working I like the idea less is more in terms of sugar. As much as I have a strong sweet tooth, even I am often overpowered by some of the desserts one finds in shops. A little goes a long way. I will definitely check them out. Best of luck to them. A nice addition to our hood :)

marjorie said...

Welcome to the neighborhood! I'm excited to stop by.

Scuba Diva said...

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous said:

Looks cute! I hope they make some dairy free too and not just focus on gluten free. Love to patronize them if they do.

While we're at it, we can make them egg-free too! Oh yes we can! Because actually, even though making things gluten-free means more people can enjoy the gluten-free treats, not a lot of people are actually celiac; there are a lot of people, I'll admit, whose doctors recommend a gluten-free diet so they can eliminate one variable when trying to figure out what's really making them sick.

That's actually a very good thing to aim for in this neighborhood; I'll stop by and see what they've got. As a vegan, however, I'm often disappointed by gluten-free places.

Anonymous said...

Sugar makes me happy :) I need to check this place out pronto.

Anonymous said...

Wow: almost all positive comments. The Welbutrin supply in our water must have kicked in again. To the person wanting them egg free: maybe make them at home yourself??

anonymous said...

Wish them well, will check it out!!

Anonymous said...

Cute place. Nice staff. Tasty baked goods.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I tried an apple-berry tart and some cheese clouds - fantastic! The friendly staff made the visit even better. I highly recommend this place and will be back.