Birthday cakes, wedding cakes, gender-reveal cakes, cupcakes, cake-pops, cookie cakes, pound cake, angel food cake, layer cake – who doesn’t love cake? Springfield’s own Mandy Crabtree.
Crabtree, owner, founder and head pastry chef of Sweet Sassafras Bake Shop, personally prefers cookies or brownies over cake, but she’s turned her grandmother’s shared love of baking cakes into a successful business.
“I don’t actually like cake, I just love to bake it,” Crabtree says.
Crabtree began “navigating the kitchen” with her great-grandmother Hazel Rolph and grandmother Roberta Mulkey when she was a child.
“I’ve been baking forever. My great-grandmother came from Kentucky, and we had that down-home kind of feel growing up,” Crabtree says. “I wanted to bring that to Springfield. I feel like a lot of that is lost, especially in the new age of fondant. We are just a family that has always loved to cook and to be in the kitchen.”
In 2015, Crabtree was inspired by a friend to try baking as a business. She assisted Crabtree with a logo and marketing, and Sweet Sassafras was born.
Inspired by her southern roots, Crabtree serves desserts “made with love and a side of sass, this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Growing up, Crabtree says, they decorated with icing and star-tips.
“That’s how you decorated in the 90s,” she says. “Now it’s all about learning and growing, making a mistake and fixing it. I do everything in my power to make sure clients get what they want.
“I’ve never had someone order something and had to say, ‘That’s not something I can do.’ Because if I’ve never made it, I’ll figure out how to make it.”
Crabtree has challenged herself to master French macarons and tres leches cake. And, she receives unique requests of all kinds, including once baking a toy car inside of a cake and another time celebrating a vasectomy with cupcakes and cake pops.
Sweet Sassafras specializes in mini cakes, custom order full-size cakes, pies, cookies, candies, and seasonal items, like the now-popular hot chocolate bombs.
“People love to watch them explode,” Crabtree says.
And whether positive or negative (which is rare), Crabtree likes to receive feedback about her sweet concessions.
“I use fresh ingredients. I don’t freeze things. What you get from me is made for you,” she says. “My buttercream is all butter, there is no Crisco after taste. I really do love baking for people, and I love to hear from people.”
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweet Sassafras baked goods were available at the local farmer’s market and various events. Long-term, Crabtree would like to have a food truck where she can interact with her customers again.
“With a brick-and-mortar storefront, you’re kind of stuck in that location, and people have to come to you. I see myself going to people, maybe at a soccer game … with something hot and fresh and good that’s not a hotdog,” she says. “I love to be at the farmer’s market. It’s been over a year since I’ve been able to be out in the community with the people. I like to be there, be with the people and tell them exactly what they are getting.”
While balancing her family and baking, Crabtree also works full-time in a group home with high-risk individuals. She chose to stop attending events to sell her baked goods in order to keep them safe while the pandemic continues.
“My customers have been great,” she says. “It’s hard because customers become friends, but we talk at a distance. I hope to grow back into the food-truck mind set later in the year.”
Crabtree, whose business partners and taste-testers include her husband and two children ages 8 and 10, also enjoys collaborating with other local businesses to bring her sweets to the community.
Most recently, Sweet Sassafras partnered with Sip & Dipity Paint Bar on a Valentine’s Day project that included pre-order decorate and paint your own cookies, or a dessert charcuterie board for two. Both pre-order options sold out prior to the deadline.
“I don’t see this business venture going any further than Springfield and Urbana,” Crabtree says. “This is home. This is where my family and friends are.”
For those who want their cake and want to eat it, too, Sweet Sassafras orders can be placed via Facebook message through her business page.