SweetCheeks Kitchen whips up drool-worthy goodies that even folks with some food allergies can eat
Have you heard of SweetCheeks Kitchen? If you’re smacking your lips, you probably know about the local duo who handcraft gluten/dairy free vegan sweets and savouries. “One client buys our date squares by the pan,” laughs Sharon Lloyd, who runs the business with her daughter, Kristen.
You can find SweetCheeks’ goodies at retailers and eateries all over the Ottawa region, from the Rideau Centre to Carleton Place. Not only are they available at Equator Coffee cafés in Almonte and Westboro, they’re also sold commercially at Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior, Dandelion Foods and Bread and Butter Bakery in Almonte, Mitchell’s YIG in Carleton Place, Brown’s YIG and Natural Food Pantry in Stittsville, and Green Rebel locations in Ottawa.
And what goodies they are! You’re apt to find peanut butter cookies, ginger chews, chocolate-bottom macaroons, Blow Your Mind Brownies, Nanaimo bars, O’Hatties (peanut butter/rice crisp bottom with fondant and a chocolate top) and BYOB (bake your own bagel) pretzel bagels at the grocery stores, Natural Food Pantry and Dandelion Foods.
The Antrim Truck Stop also carries date squares, Turtle Oat Squares (oats, chocolate and caramel), chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cupcakes and carrot muffins.
Equator locations offer much the same goodies as Antrim, with the addition of power balls, raw squares, and pineapple zucchini and chocolate zucchini loaves.
In Almonte, though, the Equator lunch menu features savoury SweetCheeks items as well. They include fresh spring rolls, raw sushi rolls, a variety of salad specials that change weekly, and soups on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through the year.
The kitchen also fills private orders, does small-event catering and creates specialty cakes. Popular cakes and cupcakes include coconut with margarita frosting, maple custard, carrot with lemony buttercream, chocolate with peanut butter frosting, and vanilla with fresh berry buttercream. Cupcakes are made to order by the dozen, and cake sizes start with nine-inch double-layer round orders.
As for catering, it’s tailored to the occasion and the needs of clients. Recent offerings have included hazelnut mushroom balls with ginger maple dip, veggie tortiere, cheesy nut roast, and cucumber-dill bites with nut cheese and sundried tomato.
Drooling yet? Whether you’ve bitten into one (okay, three) of the peanut butter cookies or scarfed down an O’Hattie, you know how tasty these items are, but you may not realize what prompted the launch of this unique operation.
When Sharon Lloyd’s middle and youngest daughters were born in 1986 and 1987, their arrival inadvertently prompted the start of a whole new way of eating for her family. That’s because, as time passed, Sharon discovered her girls couldn’t tolerate gluten or dairy products. Thirty years ago, food allergies and intolerances were virtually unheard of, the smiling lady points out. “Nobody even knew what gluten was. Soy milk was way out there. It was for hippies.”
For a mom who wanted to get supper on the table, lunches into lunch bags and snacks ready after school, “There was practically nothing,” she recalls. There were no dedicated shelves of recipe books at the bookstores, no gluten-free sections at the grocery stores, and no websites full of suggestions and recommendations.
So Sharon took to her own kitchen and started developing recipes. “It just became routine,” she explains. “It’s what we did. We built this lovely little arsenal of recipes.”
Thanks to the girls’ dietary restrictions, junky convenience items had no place in the Lloyd cupboards. “We never had Goldfish crackers or Fruit Loops in the house,” mentions Kristen, who is Sharon’s eldest daughter. Instead, they ate good stuff. “I was always a health nut. This just took it to the next level,” her mom explains.
Fans of SweetCheeks Kitchen are definitely grateful for that. While the girls’ health inspired Sharon to adopt a certain was of cooking and baking, it was her own health that spurred the start of the commercial outfit. Four years ago, she was off work, quite ill, and unable to return to her special education job at a local school board. She didn’t know what to do. That’s when Kristen pointed out specialty baking and cooking were things they both did really well. “She said, ‘Why don’t we take this show on the road and I’ll be your business partner?’ ”
As ideas go it was delectable, but there was one little hiccup. At the time, Kristen was across the ocean in London, England, where she had lived for a decade. But she was homesick. “I wanted to be here with my Shasha,” she says now, affection evident in her voice. When she did return to Canada, Sharon (aka Shasha) was delighted to have her in the kitchen. “We’re besties and always have been,” they explain.
Sharon and Kristen are both also vegans. They care about the ingredients in the foods they prepare, and they’re thoughtful of the sources. Their goodies are handcrafted in small batches and they’re proud to share them with others.
That sharing has come about organically. Kristen was working for the Equator café when she broached the idea of bringing some SweetCheeks treats in to see if customers would like them. Her boss said yes, she brought in two batches of maple custard cupcakes and … people gobbled them up. “It kind of exploded from there,” they laugh.
Kristen and her mom do a lot of laughing. The energy in their small business is, well, pretty sweet. They play loud music, sing, dance, and enjoy what they’re doing. First though, before going to the kitchen each morning, Shasha and her bestie head to a gym together. It’s one of the places where it’s not unusual to hear people grumbling about the workday ahead. And that’s when they smile at each other and say, “Wanna go make cookies?”
For details, see sweetcheekskitchen.ca and call 613 266-4676.