Sweet Somethings in the Air

Rob Kalesse

Rob Kalesse

, Below The Fold

Nearly 20 years after starting as a home-based business, Sweet Somethings continues to churn out the treats

A water ice after a Little League game; a Pez dispenser at a birthday party; miniature Snickers and Milky Way bars in a trick-or-treat bag. Most of these experiences probably take you back to childhood, and with good reason.

There is a strong connection between our earliest memories and sweets. Whether it’s baking holiday cookies with mom, making pumpkin pie with grandma, trick-or-treating, or a birthday cake with family and friends, sweets can bring out the strongest of nostalgic feelings.

At Sweet Somethings, a bakery and dessert shop on Union Street in Wilmington, they count on that evocative connection. By churning out some of the best cakes, pies, cupcakes and other sweet treats, they’ve turned a home business into a thriving shop, almost two decades in the baking.

Turtle Tart: heaven

Turtle Tart: heaven

Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia

For Lee Slaninko, owner of Sweet Somethings, making connections with his customers is important. When people walk into his bakery, he wants them to be whisked back to the first time they tried a particular dessert when they were a kid.

“There are plenty of places that do ‘cutting edge’ desserts, but for me, it’s about making products you remember as a kid, with grandma,” Slaninko says. “We try and marry that with good service, creative design, and great taste. When you have all three, I believe that’s a recipe for success.”

But just because he counts on that nostalgia doesn’t mean he wants his physical space to look that way. Sweet Somethings is clean as a whistle, with contemporary furniture and design, sparkling display cases, and an open kitchen that offers a view of every last baking activity.

“A lot of bakeries have old paneling, double swinging doors, glass cases older than your grandfather, and sheet pans that have been bent from wear and tear,” Slaninko says. “When I walk in to a place like that, I think, ‘Really?’ I didn’t want that when we designed this place, so it’s completely transparent. You see everything from our dry storage and ovens to our bakers shaving white chocolate and decorating.”

The showy display is a far cry from where Sweet Somethings began. Back in 1997, while working as servers at the first Iron Hill location in Newark, Slaninko and his wife began baking out of his home in Kennett Square, Pa., selling mostly to neighbors and friends.

“When we worked at Iron Hill, we did Sweet Somethings completely on the side, until we convinced the owners to use our desserts at their Main Street location,” Slaninko says. “We were kind of frustrated with what they were serving at that time, so we brought in our desserts and they gave us a shot.”

Among those desserts was the now-famous oatmeal cake, a gooey, rolled-oats-and-brown sugar spice cake topped with an icing that, when served warm, melts down the side of the cake. Though Sweet Somethings and Iron Hill cut ties in 2013, the oatmeal cake is still a seller at the Union Street shop.

From there, Sweet Somethings could eventually be found on several area menus over the years, first at Half Moon Saloon in Kennett, then Valle Cucina in Pike Creek, followed by Culinaria in North Wilmington, and for several years now, at all five Two Stones Pub locations.

Mike Stiglitz, director of operations and owner of Two Stones and 2SP Brewing Company, is a former Iron Hill sous chef who remembers Slaninko’s desserts from way back. In fact, “Stigz” says he used to drive to Wilmington for Sweet Somethings desserts when he ran restaurants at the beach.

“Lee’s incredible desserts are not only local, delicious and creative, but they are priced better than any frozen box dessert from any purveyor,” Stiglitz says. “Honestly, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve done the math, and adding labor, ingredients and, most importantly, quality, [going with an] inconsistent product costs me way more than continuing to buy [from Sweet Somethings].”

Arguably the most “incredible” dessert at Two Stones—and one of their best sellers—is the Peanut Butter Tasty Cake. A peanut butter mousse and chocolate ganache masterpiece, the dessert tastes like a gourmet version of Kandy Kakes, made by a Philadelphia institution, Tastykake.

Sweet Somethings’ continued success is due in large part to a pair of baking sisters, Candace and Tiffany Ewald, who joined the shop about five years ago. At that time, Slaninko had recently bought his former wife out of the business, and needed help steering a ship he thought had been “teetering” for a couple of years.

Assorted tarts and cakes crowd the display case.

Assorted tarts and cakes crowd the display case.

We Are Family

As with many trades, baking has been in the Ewald family for generations. Sisters Candace, 29, and Tiffany, 28, first started decorating cakes alongside their mother and grandmother in grade school. While both attended Wilmington University for business management, they eventually returned to what they love.

“I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Philly, and after six months, I knew I had to get an internship,” says Candace, the shop’s pastry chef. “While I was looking for one, I saw that Sweet Somethings was hiring for a full-time baker. I couldn’t do both, so I left school and started here full-time in 2010.”

Candace says she’s more of a savory than sweet person, but loves to make custom cakes for clients. She recently made a high heel cake, which required a lot of fondant and a mold she had to create herself.

Tiffany, who serves as the shop’s bakery director, loves to make flan and cupcakes at Sweet Somethings, and hopes the recent trend for the wrapped miniature cakes continues. As she says, “I have the freedom to make about a dozen different cupcake flavors each day, and I love having that creative outlet.”

On the topic of “everything pumpkin,” wherein the sweet gourd seems to dominate lattés and IPAs these days, both sisters agree: there is a time and a place. They try to steer away from making pumpkin desserts until October, and as Tiffany puts it, emphatically, “We won’t have any pumpkin products in our showcase until summer is over!”

Slaninko and the Ewald sisters are looking forward to a very busy autumn and holiday season, and see trends like yule logs, butterscotch desserts and turnovers all dominating the bakery. For more information on their offerings or to place an order, stop by the shop at 1006 N. Union St., or visit them online at sweetsomethingsdesserts.com.

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