Little Rock’s popular Sweet Love bakery will close in less than a month. Owner and head baker Kelli Marks tells Rock City Eats she will shut her doors for good on Jan. 13, 2016.
“We’ve done well, but we haven’t done great,” says Marks. “It’s expensive. Running a small business is really tough. There have been long stretches of time I’ve done all the baking and most of the decorating. And then just managing things and working social media and trying to make connections, and there was just a lot involved. And it’s time to let it go.”
Sweet Love will close four years to the day after it first opened in the Cantrell Heights shopping center. Marks had been baking for years before opening her storefront and quickly became a hit in Little Rock. However, rising food costs and a recent slowdown in business forced her hand.
“December is tough because it’s usually really busy,” says Marks. “And then it dies in January for bakeries, with people eating healthy, no holidays, people kind of cut back. So January was going to be a tough month for us, but this December was a decline for us.
“I’ve been open for four years. Butter has doubled. It used to be $70, now it’s $145 a case, and we go through two or three cases in a week. Eggs are also up there. When everything you do is from scratch, those basics going up really hurt you.”
Marks made a name for herself in more ways than one. Her wedding cakes were some of the most visually striking works around. Her cupcakes, macarons and other treats in the store were wildly popular, and her monthly “Friday Pie Day” earned her a great deal of respect from writers and foodies alike. And recently, Sweet Love had started preparing desserts for Yellow Rocket Concepts, including cheesecakes for Big Orange.
“I got into this business because I love to feed people,” says Marks. “That’s what matters most to me. Unfortunately, even though business continued to grow, profits didn’t, and I had to spend more and more time with the business side, and less time making that personal connection.”
In her four years, Marks has had some memorable moments. She was the two-time champion of Say’s Sweet Potato Pie Contest at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. She flew to California to star in a marketing campaign for Square. And she showed everyone her true colors after an unfortunate exchange with a customer. When a client walked away from a massive cake order, Marks redressed the cake and donated it to Youth Home for their casino-themed game night.
As for the future, Sweet Love will have a final goodbye party next month that will be announced on its Facebook page. Marks is still taking dessert orders and will continue to do so until she is booked full. Existing cake orders beyond Jan. 13 will still be completed, as Marks has found an existing kitchen to finish that work in. Marks says she doesn’t yet know what she will do after Sweet Love closes, but her passion for small, local business will live on.
“(I want people to) spend your dollars locally, whether with food, clothing or just any small business option,” says Marks. “It might cost you a few dollars more but those few dollars just might help pay the rent and keep our local economy thriving.”