Melissa Marchione, owner of Sweet MelissaAug 18, 2021 11:24AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Middletown Life: Let’s start by asking if it was at all preordained from the time you were a young girl that you would grow up to own and manage one of the most successful and highly-regarded bakeries in Delaware. Were there early inklings that may have pointed you in this direction?
Melissa Marchione: I have always been naturally drawn to be in a kitchen. I went to culinary school, but really learned most about cooking from practicing at home, from the time I was very little. I remember being six or seven years old, and quickly making a Toll House cookie recipe in my parent’s kitchen.
Where were you in your life’s journey when the concept of Sweet Melissa first arrived in your imagination? What set you on that course of adventure?
In my early twenties, I was working full time as a restaurant manager at the dining room at the Chesapeake Inn. Although I loved my job, I still felt like I wanted to be in the kitchen. I would dabble in making desserts at the restaurant, but one year during the Christmas season, I went to Cannon’s supply store and purchased some items because I wanted to make decorated sugar cookies for the holidays.
Before long, I had friends and other customers who began asking me for custom orders for the cookies, and it just snowballed from there. I made tri-fold flyers, business cards and created a makeshift website, and then began to post photos of my cookies on the site. When I would book weddings at the Chesapeake Inn, I would also give the bride a flyer, telling her that I make cookies as wedding favors. I would get home between midnight and 2 a.m., and bake cookies until 6 a.m., take a nap, go to work and do the same thing the next day.
I also set up booths at local farmers’ markets and bridal shows as time went on.
It was insane, but I began to make extra money, and was improving my skills at the same time.
So now we’re seeing the true formation of Sweet Melissa.
Sweet Melissa was started in about 2008, got licensed in 2013 but didn’t open my first storefront until the next year. I had my first child in 2011, and by the time he was six weeks old, I would strap him into a baby carrier and fulfill orders. I would make single cookies, bag them individually along with my business card, and put them on car windshields and throughout my neighborhood.
In 2014, my son was almost three and I thought if I am going to do this – if I am going to make the leap and open my own business -- I am going to do it right. I was friends with Elana at Elana’s Broad Street Florist and Gifts and she told me that she had a building in her backyard, and asked me if I wanted to rent it. I opened Sweet Melissa in October of 2014.
You moved to your current location in 2019. Upon entering, one is overwhelmed by the abundance of sweets and treats, but there is also a café vibe here that gives off the feeling that one has disappeared to European village patisserie. What were the factors that went into the creation of this design?
My husband was born and raised in Italy, and I have been to Italy at least a dozen times. There are beautiful bakeries there and when you walk in, it’s floor-to-ceiling eye candy. I am into chabby chic and I wanted to create a feeling of coziness with a European vibe. Because I didn’t have the costs needed to hire a designer, I created the design of Sweet Melissa’s on my own. I started by scanning through Pinterest and began tagging my favorite things.
It is very safe to say that in your industry, no two days are exactly alike, but to the degree you can, walk the readers of Middletown Life – and your customers – into what normally happens in a typical day in the bakery’s prep room.
Some of our customers have actually asked us if we bake here. In fact we do, and those ovens are running all day.
It is organized chaos. Someone is constantly making batter or baking cupcakes all day. We only use real butter, and someone is always whipping it up or making butter cream. We always have someone keeping up our production for the week and keeping cheesecakes and desserts stocked in the grab-and-go case for the week. We are making cookies non-stop. I have someone sitting in the corner making fondant accents for cakes. The phone is off the hook, and we’re always assembling the cakes that are due for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It’s a circus, but we tend to do better when we’re under pressure.
Sweet Melissa makes customs cakes for all different types of occasions. Would you care to share some of the more unusual requests you have had?
There are so many weird requests we have had. I will turn down some of them if I feel that they are inappropriate. One of the most unusual requests was for a cake that featured Spider Man with a disco ball. I once made a cake that looked like the Vatican for a woman who was becoming a nun. I consider myself an artist, and many of my staff are the same way, so we’re passionate about the designs we put into our custom cakes.
We are very slowly moving back to varying degrees of normalcy after a year of canceled weddings and postponed special events – most of which called for the making of an original and incredible cake to help celebrate the occasion. What creative measures did you and your colleagues fold into your business plan over the past 15 months?
It was adapt or die. When the pandemic first hit last March, we were panicking. ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to pay our rent?’ We were not allowed to have a soul in the store, and people shop with their eyes, so we decided to start an online store. We had to photograph our items every single day and post them on our website, and then deliver them. I hopped in my own car and made deliveries. My husband made deliveries. I sent staff to make deliveries.
Whatever we had to do, we did. We didn’t have to lay off anybody during the entire time.
So here’s your chance to thank your talented colleagues in the pages of Middletown’s leading community magazine. Who do you wish to give a shout out to?
I definitely do not do this alone. We have had some fantastic staff through the years. Many have moved away, gotten jobs elsewhere or changed careers, but they are still a part of what we have become today.
Our current staff is made up of new members as well as several who have been here for years. Cherie Folker began here a few years ago, willing to learn anything and is now our lead cake artist. Rachael Berg is our head pastry chef and a macaron master. Both Cherie and Rachael have helped Sweet Melissa get through a challenging 2020 and succeed, and of course, there are many others who have been a large part of where we are today.
What is your favorite place in the Middletown area?
I like Mr. Sushi. Their sushi is the BEST, and they are a mom and pop restaurant, and we love to support them!
Melissa Marchione throws a dinner party. Who would you invite to sit around that table?
I have a big family, so I would invite my immediate family, and then my aunts, my cousins and my grandmother and friends of course. I’m a big foodie, so I would invite Julia Child or Anthony Bourdain if I was able to.
What food or beverage can always be found in your refrigerator?
There is always wine, coffee, dark chocolate and sushi if I have any left over.
-- Richard L. Gaw