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Sweet Melissa’s gives visitors an excuse to indulge

Melissa Beers owns Sweet Melissa’s bakery in Uptown Gig Harbor. (Click for Video)When Melissa Beers saw the new Uptown Gig Harbor shopping center several years ago, she eyed the shops located right next to the Galaxy Theater and thought they would make a great place for a bakery. And although she’s had the dream for one in the back of her mind for years, she didn’t think much of it at the time. But last year, when the opportunity presented itself for one of those same spaces, Beers decided to finally take a plunge.

Beers discovered a talent for making and decorating sweets long before Gig Harbor became her home 12 years ago, when she was a stay-at-home mother of five. She recalls that people used to keep her Christmas decorated sugar cookies as ornaments because they were so beautiful.

“The idea developed over the years,” she said. “My youngest daughter was getting older so I thought the time was right.”

Beers opened Sweet Melissa’s last April, offering cupcakes, cookies, éclairs and other treats, along with ice cream, tea and coffee, generous seating space and WiFi for people who want to stay awhile.

“I thought it would be nice to have a place where people could meet,” she said.

She tries to buy locally when possible, using vendors such as Olympic Mountain Ice Cream from Shelton and Mad Hat Tea from Tacoma.

The selection has been growing and includes special-order cakes, sugar-free, vegan and gluten-free goodies. Everything is made from scratch in-house, from the caramel to the marshmallow cream. New flavors are added every month and Beers is not afraid to experiment — cupcake flavors have ranged from eggnog and lemon lavender to creamcicle (asked which one’s her favorite, Beers said it’s like asking someone what their favorite chocolate is). At Thanksgiving, she even made a savory cupcake that included stuffing, gravy and turkey.

“The ideas just come to me,” she said. “You’re always thinking how would this taste with that… It’s fun to experiment and try something different.”

Beers had her fair share of challenges when she launched the business, but she’s worked her way through the learning curve. One of her biggest challenges was to create consistent quality — while she was an experienced baker, making commercial-size batches required different formulas. Not only was she trying to work out the process, but also train all new helpers at the same time.

“We made a lot of mistakes at first so it was up and down until we streamlined and made everything consistent,” she said. “It took about four months to perfect the process and I’ve worked hard to come up with moister and more flavorful cupcake. We’ve improved a lot.”

The Beers family has been a part of the business. Beers’ husband helped design the store and did much of the woodwork; the two youngest children, who are still at home, help out regularly and the other three, who are adults, come in when they’re in town. Beers has seven employees and says getting to know them, as well as being able to offer job opportunities to young people, has been the best part of owning her business.

While she’s still trying to understand demand and customer need, Beers already has several dreams and plans. One is to finish the second-story alcove area so she could host parties there (Sweet Melissa’s currently offers party in the main seating area). Another is to add a breakfast omelet bar and high tea.

“I have a lot of ideas. It would be half of those if people slapped some of them out of me,” she said, smiling.

She said response has been good and it’s helped that Sweet Melissa’s is filling a niche in Gig Harbor.

“I like having a place where people come,” she said. “I like the idea of being in the community, providing something that makes people feel good.”

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