Food & Drink

Empowering Bakers: The Story of Sweet Spot Studio and Kitchen in Charlotte

A Baking Community in Charlotte

A cake decorated in the Sweet Spot Studio in Charlotte
Sweet Spot Studio taches students how to decorate cakes (Courtesy of Sweet Spot Studio)

For many people, baking is a daunting hobby to pick up. Without the right tools and education, it can feel impossible to learn, with repeated failures making practice feel like a nightmare.

Sweet Spot Studio was launched with the goal to change that for the people of the greater Charlotte area. Opened in 2017, the company both offers classes for amateur bakers (Sweet Spot Studio) and provides kitchen rental space for more experienced bakers (Sweet Spot Kitchen).

“We have two parts to our business,” said Jossie Lukacik, owner of Sweet Spot Studio. “We have Sweet Spot Studio and then Sweet Spot Kitchen. For Sweet Spot Studio, we offer baking and pastry classes for students of all levels, and then for Sweet Spot Kitchen, we rent out commercial kitchen space to other food artisans, mainly bakers.”

When the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders were in place, many people took to picking up hobbies to kill the time. Baking seemed to be one of the more popular hobbies, but people often have their own apprehensions, Lukacik said. With an establishment such as Sweet Spot, however, the goal is to challenge those preconceived notions in favor of a more positive mindset.

“I think a lot of people are intimidated by baking. It has to be exact,” she said. “But when you break everything down into small steps, it becomes much more approachable. So that’s one of our goals: always just to make baking less scary, more approachable, have people treat it almost more like cooking.”

A baker with formal training from one of France’s top culinary schools, Lukacik wants to see her clients enjoy the feeling that success in the kitchen brings — trials without all the errors.

“Many of our students work in other fields and baking is their creative outlet,” boasts Sweet Spot’s website. “Some are looking to switch careers, finesse their existing skills, or just learn something new. We design our standard classes to satisfy the needs of each of these student groups. In all of our classes we find out why our students are in here, and make sure they leave ready to tackle their goals.”

From Passion to Business: Jossie Lukacik’s Journey

Lukacik was born and raised in Washington D.C. She later graduated from Miami University before traveling to France, where she got her formal pastry training at Ecole Nationale Superieure de Patisserie in Yssingeaux.

Lukacik returned to the United States, where she worked with a restaurant group in Maryland, but entrepreneurship stayed front of mind. She eventually brought her skills to Charlotte, where in 2013 she launched the pastry program at the renowned Heirloom Restaurant, then went on to develop pastry programs at The Dunhill Hotel and Block & Grinder.

In 2015, Lukacik founded Sweet Affairs, an artisanal wedding cake and dessert catering company, yet she struggled to afford the rent for her kitchen.

“When I first started my wedding cakes business, I knew I couldn’t afford my rent. And wedding cakes book six months to a year out, so it didn’t make sense for me to have a solo space at the beginning since I wouldn’t be having the work coming in,” she said. “So another baker gave me the idea to share a kitchen so I could effectively have other people pay my rent.”

A headshot of Jossie Lukacik of Sweet Spot Studio and Kitchen in Charlotte
Jossie Lukacik (Courtesy of Sweet Spot Studio)

She started out with four tenants plus herself, then opened her studio the following year, which allowed her to expand into kitchen rentals.

“Over the years, the demand has just been really high,” Lukacik said. “So most recently, I was able to sell two of my units in the business park to two of my tenants who had been with me for five and six years. So the kitchen kind of happened by accident back in 2017.”

While Sweet Spot isn’t the only establishment of its kind in the Charlotte area, its business model makes it a fairly different creation, serving as an incubator for the smallest of small businesses.

“There are other commercial kitchens in Charlotte,” Lukacik said. “We definitely have a different business model than they do because we’re not under the health department, so we can’t accommodate food trucks, stuff like that. Most of the businesses with us are smaller.”

A Baking Community in Charlotte

Sweet Spot Studio is, to Lukacik’s knowledge, the only baking school in Charlotte that focuses solely on baking and decorating, with students who commute from as far as Columbia, South Carolina, and Raleigh.

And as they’ve trained Charlotte area bakers — both hobbyists and those with professional aspirations — the space has continued to serve as an incubator for local small businesses. According to the company’s website, since 2017, 32 businesses have rented kitchen space from Sweet Spot, with three growing enough to move into their own storefronts. Not only has Lukacik established a space for herself and amateur bakers, but she has also made it possible for other businesses to fully realize their own goals, and that’s no accident.

In addition to defying how formidable baking can seem to people, Sweet Spot is also challenging how people view baking in general. Lukacik wants to teach people that baking doesn’t have to consist solely of sweet desserts, they can be savory, too.

“That’s honestly one of the biggest things for the 12-week program is changing the mindset of our students around flavor, just kind of stepping outside of the box,” she said. “A lot of people, they just think chocolate, vanilla, carrot cake, red velvet when they think dessert. We really incorporate bringing in herbs and savory flavors and understanding what pairs together and trying things. We have a big flavor chart that we work on the first week and so by the end, students are creating things that they never would have thought of before.”

Lukacik attributes this mindset to her days of working in restaurants because it helped broaden her perspective on what was possible.

“Honestly, the most helpful thing to me when it comes to the actual baking was when I was working in restaurants,” she said. “I really paid attention to the savory side. By learning more about cooking, I was able to really elevate the flavors that I used.”

Inspiring Young Bakers: Teen Summer Program

Not only does Lukacik strive to rewrite how people define baking, she also wants to show why it’s never too early to start baking. While many of Sweet Spot’s classes are aimed towards adults, they also host a teen summer program, which recently concluded.

“We try to provide a very accurate pastry school experience,” she said. “So within that, the kids do their own dishes, they do all the scaling, and we work on more advanced techniques. I wanted to be able to give kids kind of an idea of what pastry school is like, especially if they’re looking to go into the industry.”

Lukacik said she takes a good bit of inspiration from the teenagers who come through her camp.

“I think it’s when a lot of kids find their passion for it and they’re just so open to learning and they’re also a lot more forgiving on themselves than adults typically are when learning something new,” she said.

A kitchen workspace area in Sweet Spot Studio and Kitchen in Charlotte
A view from the classroom of Sweet Spot Kitchen (Courtesy of Sweet Spot Studio)

In keeping with an accurate pastry school experience, Sweet Spot also caters the two-week program to what the current attendees might be interested in at that time.

“This past group was very interested in cake decorating, so we did more cakes than I would typically do because that’s something that they really wanted,” she said.

Due to safety regulations, the program doesn’t typically include children, but occasionally, exceptions are made.

“We don’t typically offer kids in the teen classes, but we have people all the time who say, ‘My 11-year-old loves to bake and I don’t know how to bake. They bake, can they come to the classes?’ So we always make age exceptions for those kids,” she said. “We actually do have an application for age exceptions on our website, so that will open up our classes to even more.”

Lukacik said she’s been blown away by the talent of kids as young as 9 in her classes.

“It is a commercial kitchen that we’re doing classes in, so it’s definitely a safety thing and just maintaining all of that, but we’re always happy to make exceptions for kids who are really passionate about it,” she said.

The Joy of Teaching: Lukacik’s True Calling

With everything that Lukacik has accomplished in her time as a pastry chef and entrepreneur, one wonders what she plans to tackle next. She insists, however, she is exactly where she wants to be.

“This is my kind of final destination, I would say, as far as exploring the industry. Because I did restaurants; I did the plated desserts; I did fine dining; I did wedding cakes; I did dessert tables,” she said. “Teaching is definitely where my passion is.”

She’s grateful for everything she’s learned throughout the years working in restaurants and patisseries, but for Lukacik, that environment was vastly different from teaching and not as fulfilling.

“It’s the interaction with the students and seeing the looks of accomplishment at the end of class, especially when it comes to our decorating classes,” she said. “A lot of students come in and, especially with my cookie decorating, they come in and take a picture of the demo cookies and say, ‘Oh, there’s no way I can do these.’ And then they’re shocked at just how good theirs come out.

“One of the things that’s just really important to me with our classes is that they’re hands-on enough that students feel like they can go home and try what they learned in class and then hopefully try other things as well,” she continued.

For Lukacik, it’s seeing the looks of pride on the students’ faces that reminds her why she’s running her own kitchen rather than baking in someone else’s.

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