We resume our series profiling the participants in this year’s Taste of the Lower East Side with a perennial neighborhood favorite — Sugar Sweet Sunshine. When I arrived on a sunny afternoon last week to interview co-owners Debbie Weiner and Peggy Williams, they were sitting outside enjoying a (very) rare respite from the kitchen. Since opening in 2003, Sugar Sweet Sunshine has thrived on a simple concept — serving delicious cupcakes and other tempting treats, while at the same time creating a comfortable, laid back hangout for the neighborhood.
Peg and Deb were brought together years ago by their love of theater. Along the way, they worked at Magnolia Bakery, suffered through “corporate survival jobs” and bonded over baked goods. But they were by no means professional pastry chefs. One day, in a “leap of faith,” they decided to take a chance on a crazy idea. During the next year and a half (starting with a Betty Crocker cookbook), these two friends taught themselves how to bake. Then, several months later, walking on the Bowery, they glanced downward and saw, etched in the sidewalk, “sugar Sweet sunshine, Love,” in a big heart. The rest is history.
Peg and Deb didn’t know all that much about the Lower East Side when they moved to Rivington Street more 7 years ago. They say it took awhile for the neighborhood to accept the idea of paying $1.50 for a cupcake. There’s no doubt their block has changed a lot since then. Gentrification has taken hold. They’re surrounded by destination restaurants. But in spite of it all, they have never raised the prices of those cupcakes or a cup of coffee.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine has been involved in the Taste of the Lower East Side almost since they opened (except for the first year). As in years past, they’ll be serving mini-cupcakes at the event (think yellow cake paired with vanilla buttercream). I asked what else is in store for them down the road. Peg and Deb have talked about expanding, but for now, it’s just talk. They do have a new innovation — inspired by a kitchen mishap. Having over-baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, they happily discovered the secret to seriously delicious pudding, layered with a butterscotch topping.
As we wrapped up our cupcake klatch, Peg and Deb realized it was nearing 3pm. “Time to get ready for the after school onslaught,” they said. And with that, they were back in the kitchen, preparing to bring a little more sweet sunshine to the Lower East Side.