After working for her husband’s business for years, Joanne Merrick realized it was time for her to do something on her own. Reminiscing about the days when her father would bring home boxes of baked goods from Freed’s Bakery, Merrick decided she wanted to open an “old-time” bakery of her own in Manchester.
Even though Merrick, a former X-ray technician, had no baking experience, she was determined to make it happen.
“I just wanted to do my own thing — you know how women are today,” she said.
For two years, Merrick’s husband helped her search for a space with parking. He came across the vacant spot on Dow Street that once housed 3C’s Cozy Culinary Café, where Merrick opened Sweet Retreat Bakery on Jan. 31.
“My husband has been my support,” Merrick said. “If it wasn’t for him, I couldn’t do this.”
Merrick experienced a slight setback only two weeks before opening the doors of her bakery: she lost her baker and good friend to a heart attack. After grief and a wave of panic passed, she was able to hire a baker from Boston with 30 years of experience in the field, whom Merrick said has been able to fill her late baker’s shoes perfectly. The new baker has also been able to fill the glass cases of the shop with rows of pastries and cakes.
Chocolate and vanilla cupcakes topped with buttercream frosting and adorned with edible snowmen, polar bears and penguins line the bottom shelf of one case, its top shelf holding cakes for all occasions, airbrushed and decorated with frosting flowers, balloons and penguins. Large strawberries top a triple chocolate ganache cake and whipped cream-topped full-sized strawberry shortcake on the middle shelf. Custom cakes can be ordered at the shop with 24 hours’ notice.
The cases that customers see upon entering the bakery are filled with a wide variety of baked goods, including “colossal”-sized macaroons, some topped with a cherry, others drizzled with chocolate ganache; fruit tarts, whole or by the slice; Greek wedding cookies, and TV Bars, which are made of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, dipped in chocolate ganache and resembling a remote control — a recipe created by Merrick’s late baker.
Merrick said she plans to reduce the size of her wide, towering whoopie pies so they are more manageable for snacking. In the summer, she plans on dipping her cannolis, which she thinks will be the shop’s best seller, into chocolate ganache, putting them on a stick and selling them as “cannolipops.”
“Don’t come here if you’re on a diet,” Merrick said. “There are no low-fat items at all — at all … or sugar free.”
Merrick said she will consider adding a few sugar-free offerings, should there be a demand, but for now just wants to get her “feet off the ground.”
Merrick said she is considering making fruit smoothies and possibly ready-to-go deli sandwiches.
For those seeking something savory, Merrick now offers a variety of Kettle Cuisine soups and quiche slices that customers can enjoy in the seating area of the mint-green- and brown-colored bakery.
“I want the bakery to be personal and homey, not commercial and big,” Merrick said, adding that the only commercial part of her bakery is the kitchen, which she could “easily” use for catering in the future.
“I opened a bakery because I just wanted to bring an old-fashioned setting to the city and I picked [baked goods] you would see at an old bakery … and I have a sweet tooth,” she said.