By Brandon Martin
Sweetcakes Bakery-Cafe is planning on expanding their customer base by unveiling a food truck this coming spring, according to the owner Jennifer DeLong.
Formerly known as Cakes with Personality & Café Delight, Sweetcakes in 2015 began to offer customers more options besides desserts by adding coffee and lunch fare to their menu.
Six years later, DeLong said she is eyeing another opportunity to shake things up.
“We’ve got something pretty cool coming up in the springtime,” Delong said. “It’s been a passion for me. I was determined to make my store versatile, so we are going to do a vintage food truck.”
Until the food truck makes its maiden voyage, DeLong is keeping some secrets close to the vest, including the theme, but she said the food truck will be a separate venture from the bakery.
“It’s going to have its own identity. Its own name and everything,” she said. “I saw one out of town that was similar to what I wanted to do but not exactly it. I told my daughter that I want to be able to (sell) other places besides just right here. I want to be able to move around. Most towns have things that feature food trucks, and I’ve got a real unique one coming up.”
The Fieldale native sought her own bakery from a young age.
“I took home economics in school and it was always just me and my dad as a kid, so I did a lot of cooking at home,” she said. “I worked for the people that owned Cakes with Personality since the late 70s. I worked in high school, washing dishes, and just watching.
“Eventually, I left there and went to work at Kroger’s. A lady there taught me how to decorate cakes and some other stuff. Then when I turned 21, I went back to (Cakes with Personality) and asked them if they wanted to sell it. I bought it in 1988,” she said.
Since taking over the bakery, DeLong hasn’t been a stranger to making changes to business operations.
“I bought Cafe Delight back in the early 2000s,” she said. “That’s when we branched off and started doing coffees and smoothies. It was named Cakes with Personality & Cafe Delight for a long time.”
That store was in its current location in Collinsville. DeLong eventually opened the first Sweetcakes in Martinsville with her daughter, to “generate lunch and do sandwiches. We had tried several attempts to offer sandwiches at the cake cafe and people just couldn’t get past the drinks and cakes.”
The same year Sweetcakes opened its doors, DeLong’s father died.
“After I took some time off, I closed the (store) in Collinsville,” she said. “The closing of the store in Collinsville was kind of an overnight decision. Help was really hard to find, and it could ruin the store with me not being there,” DeLong said.
“When I started taking care of my father while he had cancer, that took first–priority over the store. We stayed there (in Martinsville) a good little while, but we bought this building and moved back to Collinsville because that’s what we liked. People missed us being right in Collinsville and we liked it here because it is where we originated. We didn’t ever really plan on leaving,” she said.
So far, the changes have paid off, according to DeLong.
“It’s been very successful. It’s a more successful store then the cake shop ever was by itself,” she said. “We get hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of customers.”
DeLong said the overall best sales still come from the cafe portion of the business, adding that some lunch items seem to catching on in popularity.
“The Big Boy sandwiches are for sure our best–selling sandwiches,” she said. “We pile the meat up high on it. It’s a really tall sandwich with double cheese, double meat, black pepper, lettuce, tomato between Texas toast, and it’s priced well so people can afford it. We try to make things that are extraordinary so when people come back through Collinsville, they know where to get it. You can only get certain things here.”
The tactic seems to have garnered a lot of statewide attention. She said the bakery has been featured in Virginia Living Magazine for the last four years.
“We were voted the best bakery in Southwest Virginia for three years in a row,” DeLong said. “We were voted best local sandwich shop one year and we also got second place for coffee once.”
DeLong credits the success of her business to her personal mantra of “all the time changing something.” This mantra was especially beneficial once the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.
“We were the first ones in town to put these (plexiglass barriers) up,” she said. “I was such a fanatic when the pandemic first came about. I had my husband go to ACE Hardware and we bought it, put it up and we posted a picture on Facebook. We had over 200 comments and likes and it wasn’t even four days after that, Kroger had them up, Food Lion had them up. All these places had them up and then they were all sold out of plexiglass.”
DeLong said she plans to keep the plexiglass even after the pandemic is over.
“They are probably going to stay up because I think it kind of protects the cashier from just about anything,” she said. “It prevents people from reaching over into the cash register. It’s a good thing.”
The bakery also will maintain curbside service for customers that request it, as well.
“Also, the sanitation part,” DeLong said. “Yeah, we sanitized and cleaned the tables and everything before, but now we go even beyond that. We go through every little bit like spraying the door handles, wiping down all the saltshakers, and things like that. Now, it’s just a regiment that we are going to be doing and in the long run, it’ll prevent diseases of all kinds. That part, I think, was a positive.”
While the bakery wasn’t immune from the economic effects of the virus, DeLong said that customers eventually rallied to support the business.
“It hit hard for the first two months, but we are mostly take-out. It hit places that are more sit-down than it did us,” she said. “Our sales did go down initially, but not to the point of closing down or anything.”
Even with limits on large gatherings, DeLong said the holidays during the pandemic were also successful.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas were really good this year. There was no decline that I could tell,” she said. “Normal ticket orders will have a lot on there because” customers were having parties. “This year, we had a lot of tickets, but they were smaller items. We had more of them, though. People were having their own little things, so the money was pretty similar.”
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, she hopes that is a trend that will continue.