Leesburg chef realizes dream with Sweetz Bakery
Known as Sweetz Bakery (someday there will be savories, too, she said), its very prominent corner location in Leesburg's Battlefield Shopping Center beckons a steady stream of customers looking for high-end but affordable baked goods.
“We have even had customers spot us from the Costco way across the parking lot,” said Bowers.
A native of Vietnam, Bowers with her family moved to the United States in the 1970s. Back then, even as a child, Bowers said all she ever wanted was to be a chef. “My goal was to go to culinary school,” she said. “I was getting all the paperwork ready to apply to the Culinary Institute of America.” But Bowers had to put the dream on hold: she became a mother instead.
Realizing that any full-time culinary career would interfere with raising children, Bowers pursued a 9-to-5 job as a CPA. This not only gave her at-home time but also allowed her to keep her foot in the cooking world. “I made birthday cake and wedding cakes for people,” she said. “I had no formal baking training, but I read and watched Julia Child and PBS cooking shows. I really wanted to be a chef, but baking was a side step.”
After 20 years of baking as a side job, Bowers finally decided to go back to what she loved most: cooking full-time. “I am a pragmatist,” she said. “I had to make sure it would all line up before I took that big leap.” To that end, she set up a website for an online bakery. That way, customers could see and order her baked goods on the website, and she would deliver them. “But I was wrong,” she said. “Customers really like to see first-hand what they want to buy.”
Bowers resolved that issue by starting to sell baked goods in the local Leesburg farmers’ market. Six months later, she also set up a Sweetz kiosk in Dulles Town Center, which meant she was now baking more or less full-time. “I realized I really wanted to do this full-time anyway,” she said, adding that because this has been a family business, her husband and two children were her primary staff.
But Bowers had her heart set on a bigger retail space, and after some fruitless attempts, came across her current storefront, which opened in September.
Since then, she has hired some assistants, and developed an appealing menu that includes 80 to 100 different cupcakes flavors (only 20 or so are on sale at any given time), mille crêpe cakes, scones, cookies, freshly baked breads, biscotti and a few savories, such as soups and paninis. Besides the tempting menu, the store’s gleaming interior with bar stools and two lounge chairs invites patrons to relax with a sweet treat while sipping freshly brewed coffee.
Pleased that her business is now well-established, Bowers admits that baking is a tough business. Her success, of course, depends on producing a quality product. “I have been known to throw out whole batches that did not turn out well,” she said, adding that she spends long hours working almost every day. As she noted, “This is my home. I live here first, and then just go home to sleep.”
Sweetz Crêpe Batter Recipe
Makes 8 to 10 crêpes
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups whole milk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the first three ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Put the milk, eggs, oil and vanilla into a blender. Add the dry ingredients, and process until smooth. Let the batter rest for at least one hour.
Heat a crêpe pan or an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; the pan is ready when several drops of water sizzle on the pan’s surface. Pour about ¼ cup batter into the pan, swirling the batter around to spread it out evenly.
After one minute or so, lift up the edge of the crêpe to check for browning; if the bottom has browned, lift the crêpe up with a small spatula and flip it over to cook on the second side; this should be ready in about one minute.
Place the finished crepes on a tray, alternating each layer with parchment paper to prevent sticking. Repeat the process until all the batter is used. The crêpes are ready for use with your favorite sweet or savory filling.