GTPulse: Suttons Bay Woman Keeps Family Traditions Alive With Bakery Goods
Melissa Smith grew up in many different places, but Suttons Bay, Michigan was always the one that felt most like home.
“When people ask where I’m from I say Arcadia, Michigan, but we were always moving around going on a new adventure. When I was going into fifth grade, we moved up to Suttons Bay and I went to school in Lake Leelanau. We were there for three years before moving to Montana, and once left I just kept saying, ‘How dare you take me away from Northern Michigan!’ From the moment I left here I was planning my escape on how to get back.”
The family moved often, but their love of baking remained a fixture for the Smith family. The breads, cookies and cakes that filled Melissa’s childhood were a cozy reminder that no matter where her family went, baking would always be a part of their home.
Despite her eagerness to get back to Michigan, Melissa stuck around to go to Montana State University and get a degree in early childhood education. A post-college job offer to be a preschool director kept her there. What brought her back to Michigan was her mother getting sick.
“She was living downstate with my grandmother and so I moved in to take care of her. It was my Armenian grandmother, mother and me all in a house together, and it was a hoot and a half. That brought me back here quicker than I expected.”
Her mother passed away, and a year later her father did too, leaving Melissa in search of comfort and a place that felt like home. She traveled for a year before finding a job as a youth development director at the YMCA and returning to Northern Michigan.
“I needed a place that reminded me of them that I could call my own. I went to the place that I was happiest with them and that was Suttons Bay. Throughout all of this, I’ve been baking.”
As girls, she and her sister would dream up ideas for Melissa’s future bakery. Her sister would give her design and marketing ideas, and Melissa would think about all of the pie varieties she could have.
“I still have that first logo my sister drew me in high school of a little beehive. I always said when I retired I would own a bakery.”
A coworker at the Y was getting married and asked Melissa if she would be willing to make pies for the ceremony. The test pie that Melissa brought over was a hit.
“Her fiance told her, ‘Did you get her? How far out is she? We need to get her booked.’ So it was just this crazy thing. Oh my gosh, I have to make 30 pies.”
She recruited her grandmother, her dad’s mom, for help and they provided pies for the wedding without a hitch. The guests and their tastebuds were happy, and for Melissa, it was a big moment.
“That just kind of made it official for me. My stuff is good enough to share, and not just be on my friends or family’s table.”
Friend and owner of local boutique Poppy Things, Chelsey Skowronski gave Melissa the extra push that she needed to get her business started. She started social media pages for Sweet Bee’s and created the sunflower and bee graphic logo. After the wedding and a craft show where she sold sweets at the Y went well, she hasn’t slowed down.
She filed to make Sweet Bee’s her official business trade name. The name pays homage to her family.
“My name is Melissa Barbara, and I’m named after my grandma Barbara who is my dad’s mom. My sister has a thousand nicknames for me, she’s the only one that ever calls me B. So when I was thinking about it, I learned to bake from my dad and my grandma, and the B encompasses that. And my sister said we should turn it into an actual bee because that’d be good marketing and we could do black and gold for everything,” she said.
She partnered with Lyndsey Egli & Alicia Manson, the duo behind Ponyboy Bake Drop when they were running Gold Baby Biscuits in Suttons Bay. They offered up a list of holiday staples for Thanksgiving pre-order and included Sweet Bee’s pies and treats on the menu too. She also was able to sell her goods at the Suttons Bay farmers market every Saturday.
“All of a sudden I had regular clientele. All of a sudden I was getting these orders through word of mouth. Now I’m doing weddings. I already have seven this summer! Every night I go to sleep and wake up and Sweet Bee’s is bigger. It’s taking that retirement plan and pushing it up.”
Her favorite part is being able to share her love of baking with people who enjoy eating her baked goods as much as she enjoys making them.
“Whether I was baking bread with my dad or doing simple brownies with my mom, whatever it was, they had us in the kitchen. And everything’s made from scratch, that’s where my tagline came from, ‘Every Batch From Scratch.’ Growing up, we never had to clarify it’s from scratch because that’s all we knew. With the hardships that I’ve been through after losing my parents, just doing something like baking, something that is a gift that they gave me and taught me how to do, I just feel very passionate about it.”
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