Meet the family who turned a lockdown baking hobby into their dream business
Lockdown will be remembered as a time when people took to baking en masse, with supermarket shelves stripped of eggs and flour – but Steph Dawson and her family haven’t hung up their aprons now restrictions have been eased.
Separated by social distancing and needing a pastime to focus on, Steph and her relatives concentrated on their favourite hobby of cookery when the country went into enforced hibernation in March.
Sticky toffee pudding, cheesecakes, brownies and waffles were some of the indulgent treats being made in four separate households that have now united to launch a new takeaway dessert shop, Sweet Thing, in Conisbrough.
The business, at Excelsior Court off Church Street, launched with a flurry of pre-orders – and Steph says it is helping to revitalise the local high street as the pandemic hits traditional retail.
"People seem really excited about it,” she says. “There's nothing like this in Conisbrough.”
The Sweet Thing team comprises Steph, her sister and brother-in-law Keighley and Gary Davies, Gary’s mother and father Chris and Cheryl Davies, and Jean Sharples, mum to Steph and Keighley. Morgan Davies, aged 17 and the eldest of Keighley and Gary’s two daughters, is handling the shop’s social media accounts.
“Cooking in general has always been a hobby for us all, really," says Steph, 32. She also works as a waitress, while Keighley has a college qualification in catering.
"In lockdown, it got accelerated as something to do. Obviously we weren't seeing each other, but we were all cooking and baking as families separately – it kept us all a bit focused as well.
“Gary has always been absolutely amazing at making cakes. He made this gingerbread house once – it was unbelievable, honestly, it had glazed windows and all sorts. And whenever we have family gatherings everybody always wants me to make the chocolate brownies, and Keighley's amazing at making cheesecakes.
"We thought we could start a business and start selling these. It gave us the initiative to do it.”
Plus the family was fortunately unaffected by the national run on baking supplies earlier this year.
“We never struggled with that,” Steph says. “I know it sounds really strange but I always managed to get eggs, we've always gone to a local farm shop.”
However, for practical reasons they decided to wait until lockdown rules had relaxed before making Sweet Thing a reality.
"We talked via Zoom and things to get ideas, but we wanted to be able to see each other,” Steph explains. “All the groundwork was done during lockdown, though.”
The shop specialises in brownies, shakes, cookie dough, waffles, crepes and cake. These come with a vast choice of toppings, ranging from Oreo cookie segments to pieces of chocolate orange and Caramac, as well as sweet sauces. The list of retro desserts, meanwhile, includes ‘ultimate sticky toffee pudding’ – Jean’s domain, by all accounts.
"The best thing for me is my mum's sticky toffee pudding, it's so good,” says Steph. “She's doing all the old-school desserts. Everything is made from scratch, as well.”
Operating the business from the family’s respective homes ‘would have been doable’, she believes, but they all realised a permanent base was needed.
“We'll all be cooking different things and the shop is where everything is prepared," says Steph, mum to sons McKenzie, 15 and Riley, seven, and daughter Effie, three.
“We've all got set days, we've got a timetable all laid out. There are things you have to have in place to be able to cook from home and sell to the public. It makes more sense to have the shop.”
Gary has designed the interior, complete with Covid-safe screens to protect staff and customers.
"We've fitted it out with a brand new open kitchen, the worktops are white with little flecks of silver,” says Steph. “It looks really crisp and nice. People like to see where their food is coming from.”
Sweet Thing is part of a precinct of stores which she says has become ‘so lovely’.
“There's our shop, one selling bits and bobs and a little micropub as well called The White Lady. It's a nice area. It's busy with people now.
"We've saved a bit from not being able to go anywhere during lockdown, so we've been able to invest that money into a business for the future, which is really positive.”