Tale of 2 Bakeries: Sweet Pea

Our next two blog posts are dedicated to telling the tale of two bakeries, both hailing from Arroyo Grande and each full of what it takes to succeed in the biz. Today, the first of our stories: Sweet Pea Bakery and owner Kelli Smithback.

As we sat outside her store eating morning buns that rival any I’ve ever had, it seemed as though every customer walking by had been a long-time friend of Kelli’s. She enthusiastically greets each with like warmth, they reciprocating and apologizing for interrupting her ‘break’. I am not convinced this girl takes breaks: between two farmers' markets per week, selling at Rutiz Family Farm each Friday, and open for biz five days a week, there is not much time off. And no sign of wear in her smile or passion. When you love what you do, it’s sustaining, which makes Kelli’s animated, energetic spirit conceivable after the days she puts in.

“I got inspired to bake because I have a ginormous sweet tooth.”

If this is the case, and your parents won’t let you buy cookies from the store, then you learn to make your own. What began with lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, haystacks, and baking holiday gifts for friends is now famous Chocobloc cookies, a counter full of scones, macarons, cheesecakes, biscotti, and morning buns. Risen from a hobby into full-fledged business and without any formal training, Kelli began the transition about five years ago while getting her Business degree at Sonoma State. After trips home to Arroyo Grande and occasionally selling her baked goods at Rutiz Family Farm, it dawned on her, “Huh, maybe I could make a business out of this.”
Years of experimenting and recipes ensued, refining her style and developing her baking skill. Upon graduating and returning home, Enzos hired Kelli as their dessert person! After long hours and realizing her need to improve, she stepped away and remained at her other full-time position. Then in 2011, she took a leap of faith, deciding it time to make a go of it in the baking biz. She stumbled upon Eclair Bakery, giving her a commercial kitchen space-and so began the transition from hobby business into the world of permits to establish Sweet Pea Bakery. Kelli weekly sold her wares at the Saturday and Wednesday Arroyo Grande Farmers' Markets, being inspired by locals and tourists and building a following, all the while scouting for the perfect location.

You will find cookies at Sweet Pea with names like the wicked witch, bleeding heart and prince charming, reflective of the owner’s fun, not-too-formal approach to her work. But her knowledge of baking rivals any formally trained baker. In just our time together, I learned the difference between Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla, troubleshooting tips for croissant making, some talk of flavanoids, and how to use alcohol to marinade meat. With roughly 400 cookbooks in her arsenal, I do not doubt she has read through them all. I won’t list her entire collection, but here are her most-referenced: Tartine, Dory Greenspan’s Baking, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Thomas Keller’s Buchon. Through these and others, as she grew more serious about baking, Kelli found quality ingredients really do make a difference: “When you’re dabbling, you don’t realize the brand of coco powder you use changes everything.”

It was last Fall when she received a call from Brian, the chef at Ember, telling her about the available attachment next door to his new restaurant. After marinating on the possibility, Kelli decided to go for it. She enlisted friends and family, utilizing their expertise to help with tasks like steering through hoops of a the build out and picking out decor (including a metal table top from Ruby Rose, pictured above, bottom left). Now, her dream is a reality and her childhood nickname-Sweet Pea-sits above 1200 East Grand Ave, Suite 102 in Arroyo Grande.
You can still find Kelli at the Farmers' Markets in AG or at her shop:
Tuesday 8-5
Wednesday-Friday 8-1
Saturday 8-5
or by chance, if her doors are open.

Sweet Pea is full of amazing baked goods, including gluten free items (macarons, gf chocoobloc, granola and monster cookies, to name a few)! She also does dessert bars for weddings and events, stop by her shop or give her a call for more information.