Cakes in mason jars and southern-style peach cobbler are stirring up the sweet scene in San Diego, California.
Chan Buie, a Black woman business owner and veteran, is following her baking passion after retiring from the military and opening her first bakery, Hey Sugar! Her scrumptious sweet shop in Southern California sells varieties of individual cakes, lemon bars, cookies and coffee cakes in a cheerful setting.
Baking at Home and For Shipmates
Buie says she learned her baking skills while visiting family in Mississippi each summer and loves making southern desserts. “My mother and auntie were solid role models and put their heart and soul into everything,” she says.
The veteran enjoys baking for others and when assigned to various units while in the U.S. Navy, she “made sure crewmates had a cake for special occasions.” She expanded into professional baking by making homemade desserts in her kitchen (health department approved) and selling them at pop-ups and farmers markets.
After COVID, Buie signed a lease for a small shop in a new modern complex between downtown San Diego and the gentrified East Village. She opened Hey Sugar! in September 2022 and points out a mural of Maya Angelou painted on the main wall with inspirational poems which have meaning to her and the business.
From Canned Food to Fresh Ingredients
The entrepreneur’s journey to owning her own bakery took many twists and turns with unexpected challenges. She grew up in South LA, where communities are known for being under-resourced and impacted by food apartheids. She says she only knew of canned foods and did not have fresh food while growing up.
“My home economics teacher introduced me to many stores, and I saw a blueberry for the first time at age 16,” she shares. Inquisitive about fresh products, her mindset changed from using only canned foods to fresh ingredients. “The teacher poured her love into educating me and it’s because of that I opened my business.”
She joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in San Diego and retired there after 20 years of service. She is a permanently disabled veteran and says, “The military experience helped me to pay attention to details and be resilient, which is needed as a small business owner.”
Daily baking starts at 4 a.m. in a commercial kitchen in the Barrio Food Hub, a few miles away from her home. In the kitchen, she and an assistant bake cakes, lemon bars, cobblers and cookies. Buie says her freshly baked items are ready to be displayed when the shop opens at 11 a.m. five days a week.
Comfortable Sitting and Games
Inside her predominate pink shop are chairs and tables and even a doggie area with treats and water. She wants people to feel comfortable and provides table games and a comfortable place to gather for families and friends. In the newer complex are apartments, businesses, and a high school. She encourages people to come in and get back to the basics with games like Uno and checkers and get to know one another.
The baker has a generous heart for the community and gives leftovers to church groups and the homeless as a way to contribute. Food is not the only item sold in the shop. Hey Sugar! provides space for local vendors and rotates products to keep the selection lively. For some small business owners, it’s a way to have their products get noticed.
Moving Ahead Through Challenges
The road to success has not always been sweet. Buie financed her business with no outside funds or special funding. The path to locating funding has also been a rocky road. A month after opening, an HVAC system failure caused her to close the shop for two weeks. Not wanting her staff to go unpaid, she dug into her own pockets to pay them. The business owner says the setback did not dissuade her from going forward with the business.
Word of mouth plus social media brings in new customers along with loyal ones stocking up on their favorite items. She says she is consulting with local convention bureaus and corporations to expand the business to provide desserts. Her goals for 2023 are to contact more corporations and the hospitality industry, plus school fundraising projects.
In the spirit of always giving back, Buie is encouraged by the responses she receives from young women. “Young girls look up to me for owning the business, and this keeps me going and not give up.”
Hey Sugar! ships domestically by using specially made boxes to hold the cakes in glass jars and to prevent breakage. She notes this part of the business continues to grow.
I couldn’t resist the eye appeal of the cakes and bought the popular caramel cake and German chocolate cake. I noticed both cakes weren’t overly sweet, and the flavors of caramel and chocolate came through rather than too much sugar.
Next time you visit San Diego, California, swing by Hey Sugar! or order online for southern desserts ready to please. The baker is located at 101 Park Plaza, Suite 102. You can also order online at www.heysugarsweets.com and follow Buie and the bakery’s journey on Instagram and Facebook.