About an hour before opening on a Sunday morning, Ryan Swift labors over hashtags for an Instagram post. Swift, the owner and driving force behind Sinful Sweets (258 Alexander Street), pays close attention to the details when it comes to his cakery. The ingredients, the execution, the pun-inspired names; nothing is left unexamined.
Swift is a meticulous planner, which is why the impulsive start to Sinful Sweets comes as a surprise. While in school to become a physical therapist, Swift had a tarot card reading. The woman conducting the reading informed him that physical therapy wasn't the right path, and at that moment, on a whim, Swift decided to fully commit to baking, his long-standing passion.
The prospect of opening a general cake shop didn't excite Swift, though. Instead, he wanted "something that's going to be unique, kind of edgy, and alternative. And shows my personality for the leather and lace, Posh Goth-type deal," he says.
Sinful Sweets' aesthetic is firmly rooted in the biblical underworld. A line of cupcakes is named after the seven deadly sins — the flagship flavor, Gluttony, is a dark chocolate chip cake with a salted caramel filling, topped with crushed peanuts, peanut butter buttercream, and a ganache drizzle. Other creations allude to the afterlife with names like Purgatory, Rapture, and The Diablo, a red velvet cupcake with a dollop of Oreo cream cheese frosting. There are three sizes of cupcakes: mini, classic, and jumbo which sell for $1.25, $3.50, and $5.25, respectively.
Swift picked up an enthusiasm for baking at age 18 while working in a supermarket bakery. From there, he bounced around Rochester learning the craft; he cites his time at Vanilla Swirl, formerly in Fairport, as his biggest inspiration. Owner Tina Bennett had instilled in him the art of owning a cakery. Bennett, who has since moved Vanilla Swirl to Arizona, is enthusiastic when talking about Swift: "Ryan was by far the most eager person I had in my shop," she says. "When I taught him something you could tell he was a sponge."
The training and education is paying off. Sinful Sweets has found success at the corner of Alexander and Park since opening last summer, and certain cupcakes are selling out daily.
Cupcakes are the specialty of Sinful Sweets (the logo is a devilish red and black one), but the menu offers a variety of baked goods. Cake truffles, made from cupcake cores, were a hit over the holidays, and Swift has started to slowly roll out a cookie line with the same flavors as the cupcakes. Keeping people on their toes is important as Swift estimates that 50 percent of his business comes from foot traffic.
Swift is starting to tap into the wedding market as well. Over a two weekend period in January, Swift met with more than a dozen couples to discuss plans. "The wedding trend now is people are opting for more of the cupcakes with" an additional smaller cake, Swift says.
A litany of ideas and opportunities for Sinful Sweets are alive in Swift's mind, but he is meticulous when it comes to rolling them out. Not everything can be left up to a turn of a card. It is Swift's precise understanding of his brand that has built up an audience. Social media support for Sinful Sweets has been important, and it continues to grow, as can be seen on its Facebook page, where it's creeping up on 10,000 likes, and on Instagram. "It's kind of been a whirlwind," Swift admits. It pays off to worry about hashtags.