Sugar by Sarah aims to satisfy sweet tooths

Sarah Heller, Champaign-Urbana native, makes and sells a variety of baked goods at her business, Sugar by Sarah.

By Alexander Vassiliadis

Chocolate peppermint crunch, salted caramel, chocolate ganache and lemon ginger.

These are only a handful of the flavors of French macarons that Sarah Heller, Champaign-Urbana native, makes and sells at her business — Sugar by Sarah.

Sugar by Sarah operates primarily out of the year-round Urbana Market, located at Lincoln Square Mall in downtown Urbana, and sells various baked desserts, such as macarons, cookies and cakes. In addition to the market, Heller takes orders via phone, text messages and email for both mass orders and private events like showers and weddings.

While her French macarons are the money makers, Heller’s passion lies elsewhere, she said. Cake and cookie decorating is at the core of her love for baking. She bakes and decorates cakes and cookies for special events like showers and weddings.

“I consider my cakes and cookies to be a different sort of medium for my creativity,” Heller said. “The cake is a canvas. I can draw little tiny details or big sweeping designs. The decoration of a cake or a cookie is so much more versatile than baking a macaron.”

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Heller got degrees in English and music from the University of Iowa. Following college, she worked multiple jobs, including copy editor at Source Books and a high-school English teacher. She was given the opportunity to pursue baking at the Urbana Farmer’s Market in summer 2013. She was a full-time teacher at the time and baking was simply a hobby; however, her products sold quickly with overwhelmingly positive feedback from all customers.

“It took off really fast and about mid-July of the same summer, I realized I had to make a choice: either keep baking as a hobby and teach full time or make baking a full time job,” Heller said.

Heller chose baking, and Sugar by Sarah was born. Heller started the business out of her home at first and worked under the Cottage Food Act. Since then, she has been able to obtain a commercial kitchen, increasing her output tenfold, she said.

“It’s still just me,” Heller said. “Sometimes I even make my husband do the dishes.”

Heller’s husband, Sid Majumdar, helps out with the baking from time to time.

“I do occasionally mix the dry ingredients for the French macarons, but that’s it as far as food prep,” Majumdar said. “Mostly I just do dishes and help with sales.”

Heller primarily sells French macarons at the Farmer’s Market during the summer and the Urbana Holiday Market in December. She is able to set up at the markets with textured table linens, glasses and cake stands. She creates a type of boutique feeling, almost as if one has just walked into a traditional French bakery.

“I put a lot of work into making sure my macarons are authentic; the texture and the presentation,” Heller said. “There aren’t many places one can buy French macarons in Central Illinois, and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from people who have been to Paris and New York in stores that sell solely French macarons.”

Heller’s main demographic of customers are females between 18 and 35 years old, she said. She caters to her customers with a very personal approach.

Heller said she typically has customers buy a macaron at her booth, and two days later she will receive a text asking for a mass order. There is no online order process or any typical business setting that requires a phone call to place an order. This works for her because Heller boasts accessibility.

“I am not at all picky about my business. I have no problem taking orders over Facebook, text messages and even emails,” she said.

Katie Bogner had her wedding in August and employed Sugar by Sarah to provide the deserts for the wedding. Heller was able to make a dessert table with three flavors of macarons, two flavors of cake pops, mini-vanilla cupcakes, sugar cookies and a small cake for cutting.

“We gave her samples of our wedding colors, and she matched them perfectly,” Bogner said. “She even made tiny pinwheel decorations for the cookies that matched our center pieces.”

Heller said she hopes to have a kitchen with a dessert counter open on Fridays and Saturdays in the future. The rest of the time she would spend working on orders for special events like showers and weddings.

“I think Sarah is happiest doing sugar cookies and cakes, particularly those where she can flex her artistic muscle,” Majumdar said.

Alexander can be reached at [email protected].