“A pie is not something you can procrastinate,” declares Sarah Karandy, owner of Sweet Sarah’s bakery in Montpelier.
Opened in mid-October, Sweet Sarah’s describes itself as a “boutique dessert shop serving small batch, hand-crafted desserts local to Montpelier Vermont,” and has the menu to match, with classics such as apple, pumpkin, and chocolate cream pies alongside ambrosia salad, pineapple upside-down cake, eclairs, sugar cookies, and other treats.
Ultimately, it’s all about the pie for Karandy, thanks to a crust made from a more than 100-year-old family recipe that’s been handed down through the generations. Along with the cherished recipe, Karandy also points to her preparation methods as key to creating her inimitable crust:
“The two biggest secrets of pie dough are touching it as little as possible and giving it as much time to chill as possible.”
Such culinary truths have been reinforced by experience. While Karandy lacks a professional culinary degree or certification, she’s earned her stripes in the trenches. “I grew up in the kitchen with my grandmother,” she points out, and cooked for many years at the Atkinson Retreat Center in Newbury, where she grew up. She also served a tenure as a cake decorator at Hannafords in South Burlington.
Even so, Karandy says she remained unaware of how good her baking skills were for a long time, taking her creations as a matter of course. It wasn’t until she had new people in her kitchen sampling the goods that she got the inkling. “These people were acting as if the pies were a decadent treat, and that really changed my perspective a bit of what I’m good at and what I can do with pastry.”
With a move in July from Essex Junction to Montpelier, she decided to throw the dice and turn her passion into a baking business. Part of the reason for the relocation was a concern for her baking buddies in Chittenden County. “I have a lot of friends in the business,” she explains, “and I never wanted to openly compete with them.”
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but Karandy is quickly learning the limits of her production abilities. “It’s been incredible that by word of mouth things have been as crazy as they have.” Thanksgiving alone accounted for 117 pies and required the organizational skills she learned in her previous career as a software engineer. “I learned very quickly that even with all the agile planning in the world,” she notes, “I couldn’t mathematically with two hands make that many pies in that amount of time.”
Nonetheless, the effort reaped more than financial rewards for Karandy and her family. “It was incredibly humbling for my kids and me to sit down at our table and to say we were sharing 117 other tables at Thanksgiving.”
In the run-up to the holidays, Karandy is focused on producing dozens of gingerbread house kits, which she is shipping all over the country. Along with the kits is a call for photos of the results for a contest. With awards in three categories: fantasy, classical, comedic relief, the contest will reward the best with a free custom cake in 2021.
Of everything Karandy bakes, her personal favorite is the blueberry and raspberry pie. The result of a customer’s dream (and proof of Sweet Sarah’s motto: “if you dream it, we can bake it”) the pie leans savory, in part thanks to the substitution of a spice blend including cardamom for cinnamon. “It’s just the right amount for those who are not used to tasting that spice.”
For now, Karandy plans to keep Sweet Sarah’s operating from her kitchen at home and delivery via a self-service kiosk (sanitized after each use) out front her home, but her prodigious success so far has turned her eye to a potential scale-up after the pandemic passes.
Indeed, the pandemic has made simply obtaining the necessary supplies for the current rate of production a challenge at times. “It took quite a while to accumulate 200 pounds of flour. You couldn’t go and get them all in one place when you assume you could. You can go to Costco, but there’s no guarantee.”
The pandemic has also brought challenges to distribution with some of her clientele. “I didn’t realize until later on that a huge amount of my population were elderly and unfortunately not understanding COVID or safety,” she explains. Other issues come when there’s confusion about the order: “You can’t get close to them to help them understand, and they can’t read your lips because you have a mask.”
For Karandy, it’s all worth it, in large part because she sees the joy and good will her bakes generate, and her clientele is quick to communicate that. “One really gratifying part of this business is that it’s anything but thankless; it’s a thankful business.”
For more information about Sweet Sarah’s or to order, visit sweetsarahsvt.com or call (802) 552-8178.