Carissa Jones makes beautiful desserts - creative, delicious, little works of art. Whimsical, classical and everything in between. Cookies, tarts, cakes and more.
So it came as a tremendous jolt to many of her admirers when she placed a sign in the door last Tuesday with the unsavory news: the retail component of her bakery, Sugar and Spice Specialty Desserts, was no more.
Yes, the charm of walking into this little storefront bakery, sizing up each and every delectable offering on display, chatting with the owner and then picking out something just right - that special experience has come to an end.
I finally caught up with Jones by telephone to find out what happened.
Sugar and Spice isn't going out of business, but Jones is revamping the concept to focus on the wholesale and catering parts and closing the retail component - at least for now.
I would imagine that for a pastry chef who toils behind the scenes creating all those treats, the immediate feedback from admiring customers is going to be a tremendous loss for her.
"Hands down, that is going to be the part that I miss the most," she said. "We have amazing customers. I couldn't imagine nicer customers - and they are still my customers."
But the retail part wasn't pulling its weight, she said. It needed bring in more foot traffic and make more money for it to continue.
Part of the problem was exposure. While Jones and her business have received plenty of glowing publicity, not everyone knew where she was. It was difficult for motorists on heavily traveled 12th Street to catch a glimpse of her sign. She said the landlord for the building placed limitations on signage for historic preservation reasons, so she made due with a sign painted onto the glass door.
Because the individually sized desserts had such appeal, many customers wanted a place to sit and enjoy them, but there was limited space inside and on the sidewalk. Besides, serving food would require having a public restroom.
"We started out doing weddings and catering, and that has always been the core of the business," Jones said. "The storefront has not been self-sustaining for a longtime."
Jones makes desserts for the popular Shady Lady bar and restaurant on R Street. Among the hits on the newly revised dessert menu there are a strawberry lemonade featuring lemon Bavarian cream served with fresh strawberries and preserved strawberries. Another big seller is her take on the campfire S'mores - chocolate panna cotta with a housemade Graham cracker topped with marshmallow roasted to order.
Sugar and Spice is also doing the desserts for Midtown Village Café on I Street and is looking to add more eateries as clients.
Sugar and Spice brought a dose of charm to 12th Street, which needs plenty more charm like that to climb out of the doldrums. The street has momentum, with the completion of the visually appealing La Valentina affordable housing units just up the street from Sugar and Spice. How that plays out remains to be seen. But losing the retail part of Jones' operation is a blow to the neighborhood and a loss for all those who knew they could simply walk in and be inspired by the excellent work being done there.
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.