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The mom-and-daughter-run Sweet Arts Bakery & Cafe is a local favorite in Athens and students at Ohio University craving its pastries that get delivered to their dorms.

Local bakery gears up for Valentine’s Day

Jenn McClain Eskey, owner of Athens Sweet Arts Bakery & Desserts, has been baking all her life. One could say baking is the family business. 

The bakery, 817 W. Union St., has been around since 2013, but has recently gained popularity on campus. For McClain Eskey, it’s not a surprise February is the busiest time of year for the bakery. Typically a two-person operation, the bakery brings in more family members to help with pre-orders and deliveries.  

“I've learned all I know from my mom who has been working as a pastry chef for over 33 years,” McClain Eskey said. 

McClain Eskey’s mom, Nancy McClain, is a retired pastry chef. 

McClain Eskey was a cook in the army. A friend paid her for her pastries and sweets, which sparked the idea of opening a stand-alone bakery. In 2013, she operated a licensed home bakery, which she soon outgrew. 

McClain Eskey mentioned that the bakery was certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, but according to the department, the bakery could only have one residential oven. 

On May 2, 2016, McClain Eskey opened the brick and mortar bakery on West Union Street next to Morrison-Gordon Elementary School. The confectionery started out by only serving donuts and coffee to the general public, but now, the bakery takes special orders only. Customers can place orders via the Facebook page, McClain Eskey’s email or text. 

Now, almost four years later since establishing the special order process, McClain Eskey believes business has been amazing.

January typically sees less business because everyone is recuperating from holiday shopping. February is the bakery’s best month due to Valentine’s Day. May through September is high time for wedding season and November through December is reserved for holiday baking. Despite her busy schedule, McClain Eskey said she never gets tired of the craft.

“Though some days are super long, and can be very stressful, the smile on a kid’s face when they see their cake makes it all worth it,” McClain Eskey said. 

She loves it when a customer comes in and gives her total creative control. Often times, customers will come in with a family recipe with no idea how to make it and ask McClain Eskey for help. 

The weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day are especially popular for the bakery. Last year, the bakery had 116 pre-orders for boxes of berries and/or macaroons. This year, she predicts the bakery will get about 40 delivery orders. As of now, it has 19 pick-up orders, but McClain Eskey believes that will most likely double before the holiday. 

The bakery has also gained popularity through its sweet cake pops. In the past, McClain Eksey would use the scraps from cakes to make cake pops, but now she bakes cakes specifically for the pops. In one instance, the bakery made 600 cake pops which were gone within several hours. 

To McClain Eskey, Athens Sweet Arts Bakery & Desserts bakes “anything and everything.” The majority of the sweets are baked by Nancy McClain, except the French macaroons — McClain Eskey makes those. The mother-daughter business works well. McClain bakes and McClain Eskey decorates.

“Most people live their adult life and only get to see their parents every so often,” McClain Eskey said. “I get to stand beside my mom and create the things that people gather around to create memories. How many people can say they got to do something like that?”

Heather Thompson, owner of Stages Early Learning Center, a childcare facility located above the bakery, has known McClain Eskey for years. McClain Eskey worked as a staff member for Stages, creating a lasting bond with Thomspon.

“That relationship and partnership was born a long time ago,” Thompson said. “Gosh, I can't even remember exactly the year… It went from, you know, an employee-type relationship to a friend relationship as well as now you know, a business relationship.”

The working business relationship Thompson has created with McClain Eskey gives Thompson the opportunity to utilize the bakery for personal and professional occasions, such as an employee’s birthday. 

“It's really nice to have somebody that kind of goes above and beyond. Instead of just ordering a plain basic cake or just plain brownies, she puts those extra special touches on employee birthdays for us,” Thomspon said. “One year, she made me a  ... caramel cheesecake. It was pretty divine. Number two would have to be her ooey gooey bars.” 

The bakery also delivers to dorms, which has sky-rocketed business thanks to numerous Ohio University Bobcat Parents Facebook groups. McClain Eskey has found that the cake pops are the most popular item to be delivered to students. Most parents want to surprise their children with a sweet treat, utilizing McClain Eskey’s talents to do so.     

 Taylor Hall, a freshman studying biological sciences pre-med, loves the bakery’s cake pops.

“Cake pops are an amazing invention that make it extremely easy to eat your cake on the go,” Hall said. 

Sydney Henninger, an undecided freshman also enjoys the cake pops. Her mom even had a cake from the bakery special delivered to her dorm.

“I love cake pops,” Henninger said. “They’re amazing and easy to eat. My mom bought me a cake from Athens Sweet Arts Bakery & Desserts for my birthday and it was delivered to the dorm, it was delicious.”


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