Sweet Street Desserts founder Sandy Solmon has baked her way to
By Linda Marx
Even though toronto-born Sandy Solmon enjoyed a successful 1960s and early 1970s, she had grown up in the family kitchen making everything from cookies, to chocolate cakes, to caramel apple pies. There was no sweet treat created by this enterprising young girl that didn’t dazzle her family. “I was a creative entrepreneur from way back,” laughs Solmon. “I wasn’t really a baker, but I have cooked and prepared sweets all my life. I finally learned how to bake correctly while I was a student at Berkeley.” Did she ever. Today, Sweet Street Desserts, Inc., the company she started in 1979 as a cookie delivery service in a Reading, PA, garage, has grown into a worldwide dessert empire. Solmon—the president, CEO and head taster—employs 650 people and sells more than 400 varieties of gourmet desserts in 40 countries on four continents. Each week the company produces 70,000 cases of product, 280,000 cakes and pies, and five million portions of desserts which translates to 250 million portions a year. “We feed a slice a day to everyone in America,” she quips.
In addition to award winning cakes and pies, Sweet Street offers a variety of dessert bars, cheesecakes, cookies, mousse, sliced sweet breads and crisps. And the company, which is strictly Kosher and Dairy certified, has received 15 patents for its unique dessert designs.
For years, popular hangouts like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble, as well as cruise ships and restaurants, have served hungry customers Sweet Street Desserts without anyone knowing who baked them. But now, Solmon, who still lives in Reading, has expanded to the consumer market via Shop Rite, A&P and the Internet, allowing anyone with a sweet tooth to buy her Caramel Granny Apple Pies, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Toffee Crunch Pie Made with Heath, Towering Turtle Torte, Choc’late Lovin Spoon Cake, The Big Blitz With Snickers Bar Pie and Red Velvet Cake. “The time has come to introduce our goodies to everyone, not just the food industry,”says Solmon, who works each day with her nine pastry chefs. “My goal is for all of us to have fun, be good to the community and make our pastries known to the consumer.”
Solmon’s story is particularly interesting because she merged her sense of visual artistry as a well-known news photographer with her passion for sweets. And in the process of selling one cookie at a time, she has become an internationally sweet success.
The daughter of a Canadian accountant father and real estate entrepreneur mother, whose family was responsible for developing many important buildings in Toronto, Solmon was born with guts, determination and drive. She comes by it naturally. Even her grandmother was a go-getter, who supported her family by delivering groceries in a wagon and developing real estate. And her uncles were major Toronto movers and shakers. “My uncles used to run the UJA in Canada,” says Solmon. “I come from a family that worked hard and liked to do good for others.”
At age 19, Solmon left Toronto and enrolled in Berkeley during the heady days of the student uprisings. As a photojournalism student, she worked on the daily paper before graduating in 1973 with a BA in Economics and Public Policy. She returned to Toronto and worked for the tabloid Toronto Sun before heading back to San Francisco for a stint as a staff photographer with the Chronicle. While there, she covered everything from the Jim Jones massacre to Werner Erhard and his efforts to better the human condition. As an enterprising hippie, she also contributed freelance photography to the New York Times and New Age Journal.
“Then I followed a Jewish man back East to Reading, PA,” says Solmon, who married him in 1981. “He had to go to work in his family business which was a chain of 70 movie theaters.” Once settled, the ambitious Solmon knew she wanted to start a business. She narrowed it down to either building a day spa or creating a cookie company that would entail delivering a giant chocolate chip cookie to area convenience stores, and of course, to the in-laws’ movie theaters. So she formulated a cookie business plan, test marketed the cookie to a positive response, then ordered the goodies from California. She quickly secured a loan from a bank, and her company was born: Sweet Street Cookie & Sweet Street Desserts.
“It was a success, and two years later I changed the name to simply Sweet Street Desserts, adding more cookies, then iced layer cakes,” recalls Solmon. “Since I am a curious person, I asked questions, and when frozen foods took off, I caught that trajectory.” She hired a food broker, found business with a few large distributors, tossed her cookie jars from convenience stores and went into what she calls the “golden land of food service.”
Things were rolling and she never looked back—including on her marriage, which ended seven years after it started. Instead, Solmon was eager to turn her passion for food into a success. The workhorse taught herself how to be a businesswoman, learned to organize, hired more food brokers, then added a sales manager and methodically expanded around the country. “I started taking on new areas like Florida and California, and hired regional sales people,” she explains. “Now we are all over the USA and around the world.”
In 1992, she married Doug Messenger, who works with her in the company as Vice President of Planning and Technology. They have a 17-year-old daughter, two dogs (a Cocker Spaniel and a Shih Tzu) and a beautiful home on 15 country acres, just 17 minutes from the plant.
As the head of an international company, Solmon is busy all the time, spending 60 percent of her week on research & development, innovation, design, cost and engineering. But she strives to live a well-rounded life. For fun, the family likes to hike and bike in exotic locales–they recently returned from a trip to Croatia. While at home, Solmon bikes with her husband on weekends and tries to exercise daily and do yoga with a trainer a couple of times a week. “Since I spend my days tasting everything we make—50-100 configurations—I have to exercise every day,” she laughs. “And I try to eat well.”
She also makes sure Sweet Street Desserts is generous in Reading, giving back to her community by participating in local fundraisers and patronizing area businesses.
“Reading is a far cry from Toronto or Berkeley, but it is a wonderful community where we have made good friends,” says Solmon. “We have changed people’s lives and it makes me feel good to know that we can support local businesses and charities, and that we have made a difference.”