EAST PEORIA — Morgan Johnson has two toddlers in her life: her 2-year-old daughter, Harbor, and a bite-size bakery on the edge of the Levee District.
After 10 years of baking with her mother for a big family — 23 grandkids — opening That’s So Sweet last year gave Morgan the opportunity to make her dreams come true.
“It was scary because, you know, I had a full-time job that I really liked and I was good at. I was comfortable, I would say. And then this was not comfortable,” she said. “We’re happy we did it, but it was crazy to do it, I think.”
She and her husband, Tim, bought the bakery when its previous owners from Lexington, Ill., decided to hang up their aprons to be stay-at-home moms about three years after they catered the Johnsons’ wedding.
Since they’ve moved the business to East Peoria, Morgan and Tim now work to make other couples’ weddings just as special as theirs.
“We’ve been trying to make every couple lately a sweetheart box so they can eat it at their hotel or the next day before they leave for their honeymoon or whatever,” Morgan said. “I like it because a lot of couples don’t get a chance to eat their own dessert at their wedding.”
Inside these “sweetheart boxes,” the newlyweds can find an assortment of treats based on what they liked best at their tasting session, she said.
“We double-triple check everything and make sure it’s perfect because weddings are important,” Morgan said.
For the big events like weddings, there are more hands on deck, bringing in Morgan’s original baking partner: Mom.
“We’re a mom and pop shop, as we call it,” she said.
With a real estate agent for a husband at her side, Morgan said she was really picky when they were trying to find the right location to sell the sweet treats.
“The Levee District’s booming right now,” the East Peoria native said. “We wanted to find a good place with foot traffic. Most of our business comes from special orders and weddings, but we still wanted a little bit of foot traffic.”
Once inside the perfect location, Tim tore it down to the studs and brought it back again.
“Everything that this city would let him do on this building, he did as far as construction goes,” Morgan said.
They had to bring in plumbers and electricians, but other than that, the bakery came together at the hands of family and friends.
The brick and mortar site at 409 Richland St. opened in July 2017, and Tim stuck around to manage the front end and help with the tech and marketing side of the business.
The bakery is still in the “toddler” stage, but the doors have been open long enough to start making changes.
Tim has largely gone back to selling homes, so now Morgan is running the front and gets to hear feedback from the customers firsthand.
“I was always the behind-the-scenes girl before and now I’m getting to meet people and socialize more, I like that,” she said.
When That’s So Sweet first opened in East Peoria, Morgan was sending a wider variety of treats out of the kitchen, but she has since cut back.
“Now I’ve kind of figured out what people really like,” Morgan said. “So we do a ton of cheesecakes every day — that’s our main sellers — and our chocolate chip cookies.”
The mini cheesecakes fit the bill perfectly for the “bite-size bakery,” with more than 40 flavors available. The flavors of the day are posted to the That’s So Sweet Facebook page every morning, bringing walk-in customers out for their favorites.
That’s So Sweet closes at 4 p.m. most days — or when the cheesecakes, cookies and other daily creations sell out.
“I’m finally getting to where I kind of can gauge day-to-day how much traffic we’re going to have, so I would say we’re selling out less, but we’re almost to selling out,” Morgan said. “So it’s good, I don’t have a lot of leftovers.”
That suits the baker since she prides herself on keeping the case full of only the freshest desserts.
Coming this summer, though, customers will find more than just desserts. A That’s So Sweet twist on bagels may help to make a quick breakfast a bit less messy.
“We don’t know what to call them yet, so I think maybe we’ll have a fun contest for the name, but they’re gonna be little bagel spheres and then they’ll have cream cheese piped into them,” Morgan said.
The not so sweet bagels will arrive alongside an extra sweet expansion of the bakery’s coffee bar.
“We want to do things like lattes and all the fancy delicious sugary drinks everybody loves.”
Morgan does her best to accommodate dietary restrictions, but at the end of the day, her desserts don't try to be anything they're not — they're "just full fat, full butter."
"We have gluten-conscious options. I can’t say gluten-free — it’s not in a separate kitchen or in separate pans or anything, but we try to cook them first and away from all the other stuff," she said. "I always tell people, this place is so tiny that like if you have a deathly allergy, I would rather not make a buck off you."
That’s So Sweet also offers an event space, renting out the bakery for everything from bridal showers to a 103rd birthday party. About 30 seats are available to renting customers, but more chairs can be brought in to get up to 45 people inside, per the fire code.
Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.