By Kerry Kincy
Yolanda Hart, owner of Carrot Top’s Sweet Potato Treat, and I grew up in the same town and shared many of the same larger circles of community—a sort of “my people know your people” epiphany. And yet, I’m not sure we had ever had a real conversation outside of me ordering one of her sweet potato Bundt cakes just shy of a year ago.
Just as the reality of the global pandemic was about to sink in, folks were lining up for toilet paper rolls and cleaning supplies. Me? I was looking for all the comforts that a sweet potato Bundt cake could bring and came across beautiful pictures of Hart’s mini pies and mini cakes.
Hey, we all cope differently, right?
Hart bakes mostly to keep a balance between her teaching job and love for baking.
In fact, she’s been teaching English, biology and math to high-school students in Middletown for more than 20 years and holds two Masters of Education in Urban Leadership and in Special Education and Teaching. She’s held many leadership roles in education, including Coordinator of the Minority Student Coalition at Middletown High School. Most recently, she transitioned from teaching high-school students to differently abled junior high students in the Intensive Case Management Program. Hart works tirelessly to uplift and empower her students and absolutely loves her work.
For many years, Hart’s mother, Carolyn, owned a sweet little café in Middletown called 3 Sister’s Place. I don't think there is a soul that walked through those doors that didn’t feel welcome and at home upon entering. Having had their bellies filled just right made their visits even more incredible. In retrospect, I remember the restaurant being an unassuming experience in all things feminine, an experience of sisterhood, of food and in Black family culture. Of course, back then, I didn’t have the awareness of that concept nor the language to articulate of all that. However, the palpability of it was enough to keep returning for a dose of that which only can be felt: home.
This sense of home is what you taste in every one of Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats. The name “Carrot Top” was given to Hart’s Mom, Carolyn, from her grandfather. In the summer months, Carolyn’s hair would beam a beautiful orange and her father gave her the sweet nickname. Like most Black families, these terms of endearments stick to you forever. It’s special for sure and even more special when looking back in the totality of someone's lifetime. My grandmother called me “Peanut Butter,” and, like peanut butter, it has stuck to me and my memories of her. These seemingly simple things about Black culture keep my own ideas of Blackness appreciated and adored. Nicknames, in a sense, feel like “ours.”
In November of 2014, Hart’s mother, Carolyn, passed away. A few years later, Hart decided she would try to make one of her mom’s sweet potato pies. Her first attempt rendered the most perfect sweet potato mixture and crust. She wasn’t sure if she just wanted to believe so badly that it tasted just like her mom’s, so she brought the pie to her dad and older brothers to taste. With their collective confirmation, it felt as if they were all back together, and a sense of all the love Hart’s mother had for her family enveloped them. It was home again.
“My dad and I talked about even contacting the Oprah Winfrey show to share,” she beamed. Uncles, aunties and folks who had never tasted her mother’s sweet potato treats were equally in awe at this sort of magic that could only have been sent to Hart from the heavens above.
Then, one of Hart’s uncles found a recipe for sweet potato cake from her great grandmother and was eager to share it with her. She followed the recipe and that too came out equally as beautiful and delicious as the pies. After only a few practice cakes, she added them to her repertoire and Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats offerings. Initially, her treats were enjoyed most often by family and friends, but then, she began sharing with her larger community.
“I don't know why I was the chosen one,” laughed Hart, having only ever sat across the table and watched as her mom made her sweet potato pies and cakes, with no recipe and few measuring cups and spoons.
Hart crafts heartfelt, meaningful and thoughtful sweet treats for everyone to experience.
“It was mostly just spending time [together],” she shared. “The importance of that time became even more real after my Mom’s passing.” All too often, we both agreed, you find more reasons that you love someone when they are no longer here in their physical body. We shared how heart wrenching it is to want to tell them that one more reason, and, why you love them and cannot. Agreeably bittersweet.
Living in disbelief of many of the inequalities we live as a people, no one could ever take from us the sweet nuances that make up a visit to mom’s, watching her prepare traditional Black meals and desserts. You always know who made the potato salad and you always know, within a bite, who didn’t make it. Black culture, like Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats, is rich, colorful, royal and it carries a degree of “ours” within every bite.
Hart is now busy crafting heartfelt, meaningful and thoughtful sweet treats for everyone to experience. Her business partners include Josiah, her 21-year-old son, who helps with deliveries. Her 5-year-old son Jeremiah has become an invaluable team member, helping his mom with baking and packaging.
Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats are heaven in your mouth and provide some of the best of what Black culture offers: a sweet taste that carries the collective spirits of our great grandmothers, grandmothers, aunties and our own mothers to our kitchen tables long after they have left this physical world. Carrot Top’s Sweet Treats taste like home.
Hart has been successfully experimenting with a new Sweet Potato cookie recipe to add to her offerings and graciously shared it with ShopBlackCT.com fans.
Deacon Hart’s Delights
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 tsp baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup of softened butter (room temperature)
3/4cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup mashed purée sweet potato (I use the batter for my pie!)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut
1 container of cream cheese frosting, melted
Preheat the oven to 375°. Mix dry ingredients together in a small bowl. All except for the sugars.
Cream both sugars and butter together until smooth, and fluffy. Add the vanilla, egg and sweet potato. Beat well. Add the ingredients from the small bowl and mix until combined. Add 1 cup of walnuts. Save the other 1/2 cup for the topping.
Scoop small balls onto baking sheets and bake for about 5 minutes. Add the coconut and bake for another 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Lightly drizzle with melted cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.
Carrot’s Top’s Sweet Treats is located in Middletown, Connecticut. Visit their Facebook page to learn more.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
When Tiffany Shultz’s son was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG), an incurable neurological autoimmune disease in 2016, she had no idea that it would lead her to opening her incredibly popular new Pawcatuck, Connecicut vegan cupcake and ice cream shop, Dutch’s.
In 2018, Shultz, who has followed a vegan diet for over eight years, was fundraising for MG, and decided to offer vegan cupcakes in exchange for donations. People loved them, and Shultz, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, decided to pursue her own business selling her vegan confections. She named it Dutch’s, which is her son Jake’s nickname.
Featuring classic cupcake flavors like chocolate and vanilla, a rotating monthly menu that has included strawberry shortcake, Biscoff Boston cream, and lavender Earl Grey cupcakes as well as vegan soft serve ice cream, Dutch’s, which opened it’s brick and mortar location in July of this year, has proven to be a success. Their bakery case sells out regularly, and their vegan soft serve has been an unexpected hit as well. “It was kind of meant to be a side item and not a main menu item,” says Shultz, "but there are a lot of people that want that and it’s been super popular.”
Initially, Shultz would burn the midnight oil baking her cupcakes overnight after working a shift at her full time job as an 911 dispatcher, and sold her cupcakes at local farmers markets. Then, she started offering them at the now-closed Cafe Otis in Norwich, and La Belle Aurore in Niantic. Online orders followed, thanks to La Belle Aurore, who also gave her use of their kitchen to bake in, offering their location as a pickup point for her customers.
In December 2019, Shultz didn’t know what kind of future Dutch’s had, as her son faced a health crisis and her business was put on hold while he was hospitalized. By February, he was back home and doing well, and Shultz was gearing up to finally open a brick and mortar shop in Groton with the help of an SBA loan. However, the March day she signed the lease for her new location was the same day that the state of Connecticut announced shut downs due to COVID-19. With the SBA not fulfilling loans during the initial uncertainty that the pandemic brought, Shultz’s plans were brought to a dead stop. Shultz explains, “We didn’t know anything about COVID. Moving forward they didn’t know how an SBA loan would work, so I went back to work [as a dispatcher] full time in New London.”
But then in May, her business advisor called her and let her know her deal was still on the table, if she wanted it. She started her search for locations anew, and stumbled onto a Facebook Marketplace listing for a location in Pawcatuck with a commercial kitchen, equipment included. Shultz says, that it “seemed like scam,” but she went to look at it anyway. “I thought it wouldn’t be anything, but there was a full kitchen, I just had to bring in furniture and mixers.” Feeling more comfortable about taking the risk of opening a new location in the midst of a pandemic, she initially thought it would be used as a kitchen only, but as she moved forward, it spun into storefront for her cupcakes. And, feeling the supportive and friendly vibe of the neighborhood, she thought, what if we did ice cream here too?
Having had her eye on the certified vegan gourmet ice cream cones made by woman-owned and Brooklyn-based The Konery for some time, Dutch’s serves soy-based vegan soft-serve that is as, if not more, delicious than it’s dairy-based counterparts. Cones are served with unlimited toppings, and they also offer floats, milkshakes, and a secret menu that social media followers are privy to.
Shultz credits the universal appeal of cupcakes with helping her to spread the word that vegan food is delicious. While many of her customers have plant-based diets and are so excited to have a place to go where they can walk in and choose anything on the menu, there are also plenty who are not vegan. “I’ve seen every demographic from every walk of life come in here and they all have a different reason for doing it,” she says, “[Vegan food] can be delicious and fun and photo worthy.”
Even despite that, Shultz has been blown away by the neighborhood support she has seen, including a philanthropic community member who introduced her to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and even bought her a new oven when the oven in the shop broke a day before their grand opening. Support from customers has been overwhelming too, with Shultz saying she was not mentally prepared for how busy they would be. “If there’s a dope place that has good vegan food, I’ll drive an hour, but it’s insane to me that people will come an hour to come see us — it’s absolutely insane,” she says, “I thought there was a need for it but I didn’t know what the demand was.”
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did. I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
With vegan diets becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Shultz is part of an ever-growing cohort for whom the environment, animal rights and health are at the forefront of their decisions to follow a plant-based diet. Shultz explains “From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe our bodies are meant to ingest dairy or animal products. As somebody who has cut those things out you feel the difference. Something is better when you start eating more fruits and vegetables.” With that ethos, she focuses on quality ingredients, like high-quality vegan dark chocolate, plant butter, house made sauces and fresh fruits. She spends the time needed to whip frosting and batter so the final product is light and cakes are super fluffy.
When asked about how people see Dutch’s, she thinks that customers may be surprised, either because they are vegan and haven’t been able to find great vegan desserts locally or because they are not vegan and were expecting to not like it. She says they will be elated to have have somewhere to come in and not have to modify every order, and they will feel welcome. Shultz tries to greet every customer who walks into the shop, and strives to treat them like guests in her home and wants her customers to constantly feel appreciated.
When thinking about the future of her business, Shultz looks back to it’s beginnings as a fundraiser for myasthenia gravis. “It all started for MG,” she says, “and I still regularly donate to them personally.” She wants to start doing fundraisers, with something on the horizon next year in June, which is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. She also hopes to be able to support local hospitals, who have made an impact on her family as well.
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did,” Shultz says. “I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
Dutch's is located at 2 Prospect Street, Pawcatuck, CT. Their hours are 12:00-8:00pm, Thursday through Saturday. Learn more on their website, Facebook or Instagram.
By Kerry Kincy
Yes, it’s Capital with an “a” and no, it’s not a spelling error (for all our "Grammarly grammars" out there…LOL). Even though Capital Ice Cream is located on Capitol Avenue and is just two blocks from the state Capitol Building, the owners envisioned opening a place that was reflective of the beauty, positivity and diversity of the people of the capital of Connecticut—Hartford. That said, they take great pride on being affectionately referred to as the “The Happy Place in Hartford”. Chantell Kelly, who co-owns this sweet little magical place with her husband Shane, says she gets asked that question about the spelling a lot. According to Kelly, it was intentional—because when you dream you’re supposed to dream big! We hope to expand throughout the city of Hartford and beyond!
Kelly and her husband are Hartford residents. They saw a need in their community and decided to fill it.
As a Kindergarten teacher, Kelly’s students would always share stories of going to far away places to have ice cream. As a parent, she would also take her own children beyond city lines into West Hartford and other towns for ice cream. Always aspiring to open a community business, she and her husband thought how nice it would be to open an ice cream shop that local children and families could enjoy and be proud of right in their own neighborhood.
Voila! Dreams can come true if you only just believe.
She believes her little shop, with more time and resources, can be recreated in many towns across the state.
On an otherwise invisible strip just beyond the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and before the once famous Capitol Records—another hidden gem that for years stored and sold albums that would delight only the serious of vinyl collectors—this jewel is worth “the dig.” I mean, what’s more exciting than finding a hidden gem? Capital Ice Cream is definitely a treasure—glimmering and sparkling with happiness.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model...It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
As soon as I walked up to the building I was taken back to my childhood when the biggest problems in the world were what flavor of ice cream to choose. Although only about 250 square feet of frontage and maybe 250 square feet more inside, the rainbow of colors all over the shop is a feast in and of itself for the eyes. Handmade tulle cones stacked high upon each other in the window complement and offer a preview of what lies ahead and colorful umbrellas and metal stools circle the outdoor tables.
I learned that Kelly enlisted the help of local artists and nearby University of Hartford art students to create the detailed menu artwork on the walls. Capital Ice Cream’s staff only adds to the brightness that emanates from this tiny shop.
The sign on the door instructed that only three customers were allowed inside at a time. However, I think even if current times didn’t require six feet of space, any more than three feet would not provide the space needed to peruse the choices that the colorful menu just above eye level displayed. I was thrilled to be able to take it all in slowly. Just being inside Capital Ice Cream is its own enchanting experience.
As I scanned the menu, my eyes settled in and focused on the Kindness Cones. This gentle reminder in selflessness encapsulates exactly what Kelly’s intentions are and why she chose this particular location for her shop. Customers are invited to purchase a kindness cone at a discounted rate and leave a handwritten note on a paper cut out to “pay it forward.”
“So often children from the neighborhood stop and peek into the shop, sometimes just wanting to say hello, simply curious, and sometimes humbly ask for a cup of water,” shared Kelly. “The cones are for these children and families that come, sometimes ordering two cones for a family of five to share.”
We can all appreciate that not many families have extra income to purchase an ice cream cone. “Pay it forward” kindness spreads and is as delicious as the selection of Capital Ice Cream’s toppings. Of course, a Kindness Cone was included in my order and honestly, made my cone taste even better.
When creating her business model and wanting to offer top quality products, she realized the price point might fall outside the income levels of some families in the neighborhood, and rather than sacrifice quality and continue to maintain a successful business, this was a way to make her amazing ice cream accessible and available to everyone.
For those of us who cannot handle the speed at which this amazing “real” ice cream demands on a hot summer day, the cup and spoon “just in case” was a smart idea. I realized I couldn’t lick and hold another cone—and wear my mask simultaneously—so I quickly rushed outside to hand over my friend’s cone and sit down.
As I enjoyed my sweet treat, I watched as a little boy, maybe all of three years old, held tightly onto his cone as he and his dad were exiting. His eyes were filled with anticipation as he waited patiently to remove his mask to taste. I felt it deep in my heart: this new normal is not feeling normal at all.
Thankfully, Kelly and her sweet shop are helping create a place of comfort and inspiration despite these challenging times.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model,” she said. “Both children and adults are surprised to learn that a Black woman owns this sweet little place. It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
Capital Ice Cream
389 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06016
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Pictured: A Sweet Equations candy cake. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
By Allison Reynolds
After impressing New Year’s Eve party guests with a homemade candy cake several years ago, Sade Owoye took the nudges from her friends and family to start a bakery and, along with her mother Vanessa Owoye, Sweet Equations was born.
“Growing up, I always loved baking and making my own candy,” shared Vanessa. “With Sweet Equations, I can combine both of my passions, while sharing the gift of sweet treats with our customers.”
Nestled on Route 4, within The Farmington Inn & Suites at 827 Farmington Avenue in Farmington, this hidden gem is the only bakery in Connecticut specializing in candy cakes.
Pictured: Co-owners of Sweet Equations, Vanessa and Sade Owoye. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
"Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family."
Their cakes are a superior dessert experience made with the freshest ingredients, and their customer experience exceeds expectations—everyone who walks through their doors is treated like family. Quality, attention to detail, care and love are the bonus ingredients put in every cake they make.
I know this to be true, because I recently needed a cake to help celebrate my Dad’s new home—and satisfy his major sweet tooth. We ordered the Nutty Buddy and we’re still licking our lips. It was absolutely delicious and a heavenly mix of chocolate and peanut butter!
One of their most popular items, Sweet Equations candy cakes are built to order—and perfectly topped off with a bow!
“Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer,” shared Vanessa. “We greet and smile at every customer that comes to visit us. We educate them on our products and provide samples. We love getting to know what our customers like and helping them to find it in the store. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family.”
Pictured above: Nutty Buddy candy cake by Sweet Equations (Photo: Allison Reynolds)
And, these two know how to take “sweet” to the next level. As a “thank you” for helping others, they have donated to Relay for Life and Komen Foundation and many other local non-profits. They also donate to the local food pantry, schools, and several charities and causes. They even treat their employees with a complimentary cake on their birthdays!
“We look forward to continuing to make an impact in our community,” shared Vanessa.
The pair are reaching out by offering online cake decorating classes, a slight change from their pre-COVID popular (and fun!) in-person classes. Classes include Buttercream 101, Cake Meets Candy (Kat Walk So Special), Baker's Dozen, Let’s Decorate Cookies, My Pretty Unicorn.
“We can still be together even when we’re apart,” explained Sade. “And any experience level is welcome.”
Classes must be booked in advance, and more information is available at this link.
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
Favored by locals on Yelp, Sweet Equations is featured this month in “The Top 10 Bakeries Near Farmington, CT.” The bakery offers gift certificates, private pickup times (Saturdays), curbside pick-up and shipping. Visit www.sweetequations for information or to customize your order.
Sade and Vanessa will always ensure that your day ends on a sweet note!
Sweet Equations has been making headlines for years. Learn more at these links:
Cakes Plus Candy Make 'Sweet Equations' (Hartford Courant)
Small Business Spotlight: Sweet Equations (Innovation Hartford)
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
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