Sweet Loves Bakery
Article by Vanelis Rivera
Photography by Kelly Moore Clark
NESTLED BETWEEN THE DIVERSE, antique shops lining the Cotton Port Historic District of Downtown West Monroe stands a delectable scratch bakery and coffee bar. Not only is it ready to fill your holiday season with holly jolly sweets, but it may just transport you to fond childhood memories. From golden-crusted pies, layered cakes, and warm, gooey cookies, ‘tis the season to treat oneself and those we love at Sweet Loves Bakery.
“This kind of started as a child,” says Molli Crain Eppinette, who knew she wanted to own a bakery at an early age. She imagined working alongside her mother and grandmother in a space buzzing with satisfied customers. That vision was most likely fostered when spending time with her grandparents during the summer. “We would make tea cookies every week and she would have this huge cookie jar.” Admittedly, the most enticing part of the process was sneaking into the refrigerator for the cookie dough which had to be set overnight. Of course, there was also something magical about seeing delicious bakes come to life from scratch.
Around the time that the Monroe Downtown Rivermarket first launched, Molli was working for the Housing Authority and attending college. Even then, she was still baking. Her boss, noting her passion, mentioned that the boardwalk event could help launch her business. Alongside her mother, they had a banner made and stayed up all night making six hundred cupcakes. “We were so delirious the next day,” she laughs. When they sold everything they had, she knew her childhood dream was in the process of fruition. “It was unbelievable.” Though she only participated for a few weekends, she swiftly built her brand.
The push she needed to open up a storefront came from her husband, Corey. One night, she mentioned her desire to have somewhere in town that made the kind of sweets she grew up enjoying. “My big thing was Christmas candy,” she says, explaining that between her mother and father’s family, she was accustomed to pralines, divinity, and fudge. As she mused enthusiastically, her husband interjected his support: “Okay, well, it’s now or never.” While compelled, this sudden nudge was surprising since they recently had their second child. But she agreed. Though the planning period was daunting, she knew she wanted to find a space in downtown West Monroe, one of the area’s epicenters of charm, history, and exclusive rarities.
After a year of construction, Sweet Loves Bakery opened its door in 2021. “When we opened, it was the week before Thanksgiving. So there was no room for trial and error,” she says, adding, “When we opened the doors, it was like diving headfirst into the swimming pool and hoping that you swim.” Though the first months were hectic, Molli happily admits that meeting the challenges of owning a bakery is everything she worked for and hoped to build upon—“This is why I’m doing what I do.”
It’s hard to miss the pop of baby blue marking the exterior of Molli’s bakery. Over a black awning lined with string lights, a white stencil logo features a latte cup and icing on top to symbolize cake. “Sweet Loves” is painted in black, cursive font with a rolling pin icon at its base. The overall design is inviting and promises a cozy, whimsical atmosphere. “I have an obsession with Hallmark Christmas movies. They are my absolute favorite,” beams Molli, whose interior aims to recreate the warm, fuzzy feels of the light-hearted, family-friendly seasonal films. “I want people to love the food, but I want them to also come back for the atmosphere that they feel when they come because that means a lot to me,” she says. The interior accents successfully create an ambiance fit for comfort and connecting to family and friends over delectable sweet loves—vintage kitchenware on display on shelves and over the display window, wool felt ball garlands, a dreamy wood beam light fixture, and a motley of vintage armchairs.
Filling the baby blue display counter is an array of treats ranging from seasonal favorites to the unexpected. Molli’s tea cake cookies are one of her most popular bakes which many customers consider a taste of home. “Younger people don’t really know what they are,” she says, informing that these lightly sweetened, fluffy Southern staples may be straight from grandma’s kitchen, but the spiced butter flavor is sure to please any dessert aficionado. She is always thrilled to hear that her tea cakes bring back memories of a beloved grandmother. “That makes it worth the long hours and days that you spend because you brought back memories to somebody else,” she enthuses. Another everyday bake is chocolate chip cookies. “They sell out every day!” While most stick to traditional comforts, Molli encourages customers to lean into her more complex bakes, like her Cherry Bombs cookies—bits of cherries, white chocolate, and coconut. “It’s so good!”
As a Christmas enthusiast, Molli enjoys filling her shop with the kind of candy prevalent during her childhood. Divinity is often at the top of her list. This confection is made from egg whites, corn syrup, and sugar, and closely resembles a meringue. Pair these sweets with any of her fudges like chocolate with nuts or white peppermint. Though an obscure treat, Martha Washington Balls are a classic Christmas must-have. Made with coconut, pecans, sweetened condensed milk, and covered in milk chocolate, these yummy bite-sized treats are meant for gifting (just like any of her candies).
Of all her delectable sweets, Molli’s favorites are the Coconut Pie Babies. This adorable twist delivers everything we love about pie in bite-sized portions. Currently, she offers ten pie flavors whole, by the slice, or bite-sized, including chocolate, pumpkin, lemon, pecan, and cherry. For those seeking complete indulgence, her dessert bars and cakes are just as scrumptious. You can order dessert bars like lemon squares, Carmelitas, Hello Dollies, and brownies by the pan or slice. Cakes can be bought whole or by the slice, and include fan favorites like red velvet, chocolate, pound cake, and more intricate flavors like coconut, carrot, and the hummingbird cake which is a banana-pineapple spice cake with origins in Jamaica.
Regardless of your sweet tooth leanings, make sure to wash down the richness of Molli’s bakes from any drink listed on her coffee menu. Expect familiar options like French press, pour-overs, lattes, cold brews, frappes, and cappuccinos. On her “Fall Coffee Specials” menu are six enticing choices including Autumn Night (white chocolate, hazelnut, and vanilla), Candied Marshmallow (toffee and marshmallow), and Pumpkin Praline (pumpkin spice, caramel, and butter pecan.)
Molli prides herself in curating a space aimed to make customers feel welcome and catered to. It is in this that her staff comes through. She takes care of them and they take care of her, but ultimately they have fun together. “Which is a big thing,” she says, referring to the importance of keeping an easygoing ambiance in a business that can get quite busy, especially during the holidays. “I’ve told them, you know, there’s nothing that prepares you for the holiday season,” she says. Even with the anticipated rush, expect the ladies of Sweet Loves to be donning Christmas sweaters and greeting customers with a smile and kind words.
Just one visit to this inviting space affirms that sweet dreams are made of everything available at Sweet Loves Bakery, especially because it comes from a place of passion and perseverance. “Obviously, the first year is always the hardest,” admits Molli. Regardless, her spirit of pushing through difficult times was kindled by a vision to provide her community with edible moments of joy, “something that brings everybody back to the table.”