CINCINNATI — For Andrea Sutton Lee, baking initially was a hobby.
It was a practice she had picked up when her kids were small – making cakes for their birthday parties and such. When she later left her job, however, it became her outlet -- a source of stress relief. And now, it’s her full-time gig.
Lee is owner and cake artisan at Sugar, a cake boutique that recently upgraded from an online-only outfit to a new brick-and-mortar location in Over-the-Rhine. The business, located at 6 W. 14th St., specializes in gourmet cookies, cupcakes, cake slices, desserts such as banana pudding and other sweets. (See more photos on Sugar's Instagram account.)
In terms of eye candy, Sugar’s cupcakes deliver. Flavors such as pumpkin spice, salted caramel brownie and strawberry lemonade come topped with mounds of decorative frosting. But cookies are proving top sellers, too. A display case is filled with Oreo chocolate chip, Reese’s chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and more flavors.
All products are made in small batches, Lee said. Larger orders and party cakes are available only by pre-order online.
“You shouldn’t taste anything here and go, ‘This is just meh.’ We value freshness. We value quality,” she said. “A lot of times when I go into other bakeries … something’s missing. I would say (we use) thoughtful, quality ingredients. Everything is just really flavorful.”
Lee is big on taste. It’s the main reason she started baking in the first place. She used to throw big, elaborate birthday parties for her kids – she has three boys – and was always disappointed in the cakes that she would order.
“They either looked pretty or tasted bad or vice versa,” she said.
So she started making her own. Soon, Lee was making cakes for friends and family, too.
After she abruptly left her job in January 2016, she was able to spend more time honing her craft, and baking became like therapy, she said.
Lee, a Ph.D., had logged 10 years in the education field, working for high-poverty urban schools. But her last position, as a principal for an area charter school, left her disheartened and frustrated. She quit.
“It was not a good situation, so I made the decision to leave,” she said. “It was tough, because it was midyear, but I felt like it was the best decision. I had to wait until the following school year to get another position, so I had a little more time on my hands. Sugar took off. And I didn’t look back.”
The business started as an online-only outfit, and Lee would visit various festivals and pop-up events. When she started her search for a physical storefront, the space on 14th Street stood out immediately. It’s only about 500 square feet, so Sugar’s emphasis is definitely grab-and-go.
The bakery is open four days a week, 5-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
“This is something I’m told was missing (in OTR), in terms of later hours,” she said.
She doesn’t see herself ever returning to teaching. Instead, she has a few more entrepreneurial projects up her sleeve. That includes more possible brick-and-mortar locations for Sugar. After all, it’s no longer just a hobby.
“This is just the beginning. Sugar, for me, is the first step of many to come,” Lee said. “Everyone has been so super nice and supportive here. It’s pretty cool to see.”