The Chicago Reader
September 28, 2007
Sweet Spots - Triple Threat
Follow Lincoln Avenue several blocks north past Lincoln Square and you find yourself among eastern European shops and Korean barbecues – probably not the first place you’d think to look for high-end ice cream, truffles, and cake. The women behind Sweet Collective know that, but they’re hoping to be worth the trip.
Slated to open in early October, Sweet Collective is actually three businesses under one roof, sharing a small, clean white storefront with a single cash register and one table. Cathay Rayhill, operating as The Sugar Syndicate, makes cakes and miniature pastries. Lauren Pett, under the banner Rich Chocolates and Candies, is all about truffles. Alison Bower’s Ruth and Phil’s Gourmet ice Cream produces high-end ice creams and sorbets. Though the businesses are legally separate, each woman says she’s prepared to sell and answer questions about the others’ creations.
Rayhill, 35, is the link between the other two. She went to the French Pastry School with Bower, 28, and while working at Vanille met Pett, also 28, who was an intern there. Rayhill started The Sugar Syndicate at the beginning of this year, and when a space that would accommodate all of them became available, it was, in Rayhill’s words, “do or die.” A fourth pastry chef, jam specialist, Elizabeth Madden, was initially involved in the venture but decided to go it on her own.
They believe their arrangement allows each woman to focus on what she does best. “I hate decorating cakes,” Pett says. “I only want to do chocolates and candies.” Also, keeping the companies distinct minimizes their collective risk: each is on her own.
Rayhill’s cakes show a strong creative streak – she clearly loves a challenge. She’s done a cake that look like a salad as well as a lineup of cakes decorated to resemble Starbucks cups for a caffeine fiend. Pett says one of her favorite projects was a cake that looked like a sewing basket, complete with balls of yarn and an embroidery hoop.
Bower’s ice cream goes way beyond vanilla – her more sophisticated flavors include a blueberry-chardonnay, a red wine-raspberry, and a Jack Daniel’s chocolate sorbet. But she’s also done kid pleasers such as banana-chocolate and cherry-lime, and she plans to included good old chocolate and vanilla in the dozen or so varieties she'll stock in the freezer case.
Pett sees herself providing “an upscale candy store for grown-ups.” Her hcoocolates include a collection based on Chicago neighborhoods: the Chinatown truffle combines dark chocolate, orange, and sesame; the Devon Street is milk chocolate infused with garam masala. The Gold Coast truffle is “a little tongue-in-cheek”: champagne and dark chocolate dusted with edible gold. She also does truffles based on classic desserts, including a bananas Foster, a pecan pie, and a German chocolate cake.
Pett says that operating as a collective gives the three entrepreneurs “an instant, built-in support system.” They hope to go beyond walk-in traffic to bring in wholesale business – from restaurants, wedding planners, and gourmet shops, for example. And the collective helps them out psychologically as well as financially. Says Rayhill, “I can’t imagine doing this on my own.” Daniel Shumski
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