Baking hobbyist turns passion into sweet business venture

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Christina Fry, owner of SweetArts in Downtown Tracy, turned her passion for baking into a thriving business.

TRACY — When Alicia Yassin needed a four-tiered, gluten-free cake for her nephew’s baby shower, she knew exactly where to turn. A customer of six years, Yassin’s favorite baker, Christina Fry, had never let her down.

“She can do anything,” Yassin said of Fry’s handiwork. “She kind of outdoes herself.”
The gluten-free cake at Yassin’s party was a hit, and a must for the mother-to-be with celiac disease (which affects how a person’s body processes gluten). It was also “amazingly delicious,” Yassin said.

What’s her favorite flavor? Yassin blurted out vanilla funfetti, gushing about how much her family loves it. Then she paused, adding her niece prefers the strawberry. She stopped again, got quiet for a moment, and then started talking once more. She wanted it to be known the chocolate is just as good.

“There is not a flavor we’ve tried that we haven’t liked,” Yassin said.

Fry bakes her goods out of SweetArts on B. Street in Tracy, the shop she opened in 2014. Before that, she was selling custom cakes through Facebook and to people she met in the community. Yassin connected with Fry through youth sports, where their kids played on the same team.

“It’s Sweet and it’s Art,” Fry said of the store’s name. “We put so much artistry into literally everything we make and that’s what makes this so much fun and so fulfilling as an artist — It’s pretty sweet, right?” she quipped.

A lifelong baker, Fry turned her childhood hobby into a side hustle at the request of her friends. A 3D bulldozer cake for her son’s first birthday was the catalyst. As soon as people saw what she could do, they wanted a piece of the pie, er, cake.

“Friends had me make custom cakes for baby showers and birthdays. Before too long, it was suggested that I start a Facebook page to advertise and make extra money — so I did,” Fry said.

Before she took the leap into opening a brick and mortar in Downtown Tracy, she almost quit baking for money.

Working full-time in Hercules in a high-tech position while raising two kids, the orders became overwhelming.

Her hiatus lasted about two months before she was at it again.

“It fulfilled the artistic void I had, and it truly was therapeutic when I wasn’t overwhelmed with it,” Fry said.

Fry jumped in with both feet, quitting her job at an office 80 miles from home, where the paycheck was good. She found a building owner who trusted her vision and after cashing in her 401k — yes, all of it — to fund the venture, SweetArts was opened.

All of the designs that come out of SweetArts are originals. Many customers bring in photos found online, but Yassin speaks from experience when she says Fry and her team even outdo those.

At night, visions of sugarplums keep her awake. Her favorite dessert, waffle cakes, were a concoction she dreamed up when baker’s insomnia took over. Unable to contain her excitement, Fry rushed into work with her waffle iron in hand the following morning, filling it to the brim with cake batter. She stacked four layers of cake waffles, stuffed them with whipped cream and put them on the menu — available in more than 20 cake flavors.
Behind Fry are three women: Marta, who has been with Fry since the beginning, is the manager and order specialist; Julie, who joined six months after SweetArts opened, helps on the creative side as a designer, decorator and baker; and Adrianna, the newest employee and a senior at Lathrop High School, is a bakery assistant who helps with customer service.

“We run lean and mean,” Fry said.

Custom cakes are a big part of Fry’s business and her creations are often featured at City of Tracy events, as well as catered for large organizations such as Amazon and Sutter Tracy.

“We recently created and catered the desserts for the first annual Mayor’s Ball in Tracy. They were pure Belgium chocolate bowls filled with our vanilla bean mousse, our custard-filled cream puffs and a chocolate strawberry,” she said.

Despite the intricate work of those treats, her most over-the-top dessert yet was a series of princess cakes made for this year’s Case for Kid’s Princess Tea Party, an annual event held to help fund the Tracy-based nonprofit that benefits foster youth.

“The center cake was an elegant four-tiered princess castle cake surrounded by five of the most beautiful Disney princess cakes we’ve ever made,” Fry said. “This event gives me the opportunity to really test our skills and try new things and come up with bigger and better designs each year.”

In 2018, there are changes to come. The menu is expanding its dessert offerings to include macaron ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cake cups, using the sold-by-the-scoop Tillamook ice cream Fry stocks. Online ordering and shipping is also on the horizon.
And with the expansion, more help in the bakery will be needed, adding new team members to the all-woman workforce.

“We’ll see how it goes!” Fry said.

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