BERRYVILLE — Entering the Sweet Elephant Bake Shop is like entering the kitchen of a pastry chef tempting her guests to buy some of her tasty creations.
A spicy aroma immediately hits the nose upon opening the front door. A restaurant-style kitchen is in the background behind a small glass display case and sales counter. Green curtains hang in the storefront window amid vanilla frosting-colored walls on which hang a display of wooden spoons and spatulas, plus a framed, multi-colored sketch of wire whisks.
The sights and smells prompt a visitor to reminisce about helping Grandma in her kitchen while growing up. All that seems to be missing is the kitchen table. There's not really room for one, but a wooden counter with three seats beside the window enables visitors to watch the hustle-and-bustle along West Main Street downtown while enjoying their purchases.
A wooden display case of frosted sugar cookies, adorned with edible gold leaves, entices the visitor to pull out his wallet.
But the store isn't open yet.
Sweet Elephant's grand opening is today and Sunday. Hours are from noon to 3 p.m. or whenever the goodies give out. So be there when owner Lauren Connolly unlocks the door so as not to chance it.
Connolly officially launched Sweet Elephant in March 2017 as a home-based business, selling her items mostly at the Clarke County Farmers Market. With a full-time job as a company's purchasing manager, "I did this on the side," she said.
But as more and more people sought to buy her sweets, "it got to be too much" to make them at home, she recalled.
"It got to the point that customers' orders and (items for the) farmers market were taking over our dining room. We didn't have a place to eat dinner," Connolly said, referring to herself, her husband and her two children.
And, "packing materials were taking over my garage," she remembered, her eyes bulging slightly in amazement.
She needed more time, as well as more room. So she quit her full-time job last summer to focus solely on baking. Later, the storefront became available and "everything just fell into place," she said.
Connolly came up with the name "Sweet Elephant" for her business because she wanted an animal to be part of it and she liked how it sounded.
Items for sale at the new bakery will rotate regularly. However, the assortment will include cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, scones, bagels and "quiche-type things," Connolly said.
Cordial Coffee Co., a few doors down, created a special "Baker's Blend" of coffee that will be sold only at Sweet Elephant. Connolly described it as a medium blend with hints of cocoa and graham crackers that's "not too strong."
As the weather gets cooler, Connolly anticipates customers will want beverages that warm them up. Along with the coffee, the bakery will feature a selection of Harney & Sons teas. Customers can choose from one of five flavors of tea bags in a small wooden box on a side table.
Hot chocolate likely will be on the menu this winter. That will really be the bomb, so to speak.
Connolly developed the concept of a "hot chocolate bomb" containing tiny marshmallows and sprinkles. Drop it into a cup of hot milk and it explodes, with the chocolate melting and the decorations floating on top, she explained.
It's possible to eat the bomb by itself, without the milk.
"I think my kids have done that," Connolly giggled.
Although baking has been her business for just several years, soft-spoken Connolly has enjoyed it for most of her life.
"It's a creative outlet," she said. "I like to create something with my hands out of nothing."
She started selling homemade cookies online in 2014. When she moved to Clarke County the following year, "it took me two years to get the courage to do the farmers market," she said. "But I wanted to get out and meet people" and become part of the community.
Connolly's first visit to the farmers market was on a rainy day. Still, she earned $125, "so it was a really good day," she said, smiling. That gave her confidence.
She speculated that her baked goods have grown in popularity because "I hold myself to a high quality. If something doesn't turn out right, I'm not selling it."
Also, she only uses the freshest ingredients, she said.
Connolly admitted "it's a little bit scary" opening a store while the COVID-19 pandemic persists. Yet she believes it's the logical thing to do as her business increases.
"Hopefully, it's going to work out" for the best, she said.
Sweet Elephant, at 23 W Main St., will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays after this weekend.