After discovering her passion for food during a stint abroad in Florence, Italy, University alum Heather Anne Leavitt decided to start her own bakeshop in Ann Arbor — Sweet Heather Anne.
Leavitt said her cultural anthropology minor influenced her interest in art and sparked her curiosity about different cultures and people. Pairing her time in Italy with her knowledge of art and affinity for sculpture, Leavitt developed her arts thesis by creating a series of edible monuments to highlight food producers and artisans in the Ann Arbor area. The project eventually blossomed into her current business.
“It was really easy to combine my passion for food and artwork after I came back from studying abroad in Italy,” Leavitt said. “The art school is really open to different mediums. I even took a food class and got to know local farmers and artisans.”
After shopping at farmer’s markets in Italy, she became committed to using local ingredients in her cakes.
“In Italy, at the farmers’ markets, you buy everything directly from the farmers and every cheese and vegetable is named after the region it is from,” Leavitt said. “I was really inspired by the food culture and knew that I wanted to explore this when I came back to Michigan.”
Leavitt, who works with fellow University alum Claudia Kimbell, said using seasonal and local ingredients in their signature cakes makes their shop — located on Metty Drive and open only for appointments — unique from other businesses.
“Two things that set us apart from other bakeries are the focus on local ingredients and our artistic ability,” Leavitt said. “Our olive oil almond cake with blood orange curd uses seasonal winter citrus and pays homage to my time in Italy.”
In addition to utilizing local products, Leavitt aims to keep up with food industry trends and the expectations of clients. She works closely with her customers to become familiar with their style, in order to decide what type of individualized cake may appeal to them most.
“Each cake is totally unique for each person,” Leavitt said. “I recreate their personality with their cake. It’s a varied process starting with sketches and tastings, all the way down to the final details.”
After graduating in 2007, Leavitt gained hands-on baking experience at local eateries such as Decadent Delight, Cake Nouveau and Eve the Restaurant. At Eve the Restaurant, Leavitt developed recipes and refined her taste palette as she worked toward developing her small business by baking for friends and family — including baking her first wedding cake, which she made for her best friend’s nuptials.
Aside from working on her business, Leavitt also competed on the Food Network Challenge twice while working with Courtney Clark of Cake Nouveau in Oct. 2008 and Jan. 2009. On the show, cooks, pastry chefs and culinary artists from across the nation compete on television in a food battle for cash prices, according to foodnetwork.com.
“It was an amazing experience to meet talented chefs from all over the country,” Leavitt said. “I was competing against (my) idols. I was never very competitive in high school sports, but I found a competitive edge with cake decorating. It was a cool place to share ideas and techniques. The reality show created a nationwide community.”
In addition to providing baked goods for the Ann Arbor community, Leavitt was also a guest lecturer in the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series, an annual event at the School of Art & Design.
“The art school is a really special place,” Leavitt said. “I made a lot of connections and am still in touch with my professors and the school. I bake cakes for them and have done some catering work with the University.”
Leavitt said the University’s supportive alumni network has made Ann Arbor a prosperous and rewarding location for her cake shop, adding the company has secured a space on North Main Street and is planning to move their business there soon.
“Baking personal cakes and wedding cakes is a very intimate process,” Leavitt said. “It’s fabulous to hear from satisfied customers and see the finished product.”