Tatiana Wingate: Sweet as pie (or cake)

“Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!” — C. JoyBell C.

“A party without cake is just a meeting.” — Julia Child

These are two quotes about a subject this week’s Portrait knows well. Tatiana Wingate, owner of Sprinkled Sweetness on South Street, has been creating sweet treats for over a decade. If Linda Grayson’s quote, “There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with cake” is true, then Ms. Wingate is an excellent friend indeed. We took a break from our veggies to talk to the sweet proprietor. 

So where were you cooked up?
I was born and raised in West Philadelphia, although I don’t like to say that ‘cause people always start singing the song!

So tell me a little about the family?
We have a pretty small family. My grandmother is one of five so I have a lot of extended family, but she only had the one child, which is my mom. I have an older sister who is 14 years older than me, so there’s quite a gap. By the time I was in kindergarten, she was in college so I was raised basically as an only child. 

What’s a favorite memory with your sister?
When I was about 7 years old, my school was within walking distance of my house. Normally, my sister — who was about 21 at that point — would walk me to school in the morning, but I thought I was old enough to walk by myself. I remembered the route and I knew I could do it so even though she was very apprehensive, I convinced my mom that I was ready. Though she was apprehensive, she caved and let me try it. There were two routes to take to my school, the one we took regularly and another route that we’d take on occasion. I wanted to be fancy and take the road less traveled to prove I was ready. I was walking, walking, walking and then I got turned around and started to panic. I turned around to try to go back home and my sister was 20 feet behind me. She had been secretly following me to make sure I was OK. I’d never been happier to see my sister than in that moment! As much as we would fight as sisters — sibling stuff — I really appreciated her being there. I ran up and hugged her and it is one of my fondest memories, just to know that she was there for me. 

It’s nice when the siblings come through! 
Yes. She has three children now, and I have a son who is 18. 

Wow, you don’t look old enough to have an 18-year-old.
Thank you. I’m 35! I had him my senior year of high school and he has honestly been an inspiration for me since I’ve had him. It wasn’t something that was planned and was not the ideal situation. I was a good student and planned to go to college and have a successful career. After it happened, as challenging as it was, I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to do this with the baby.” And that’s what I did. After high school, I went to culinary school part time. I worked full time so I could provide for my baby. I went to school at night and on Saturdays from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. and worked my day job during the week. It was tough but I made it work and graduated. [Laughing] So my son was at my high school graduation and he was at my college graduation. He’s been with me through all the big moments! 

Before you were pregnant, was your path in the culinary arts?
No. I wanted to get into the medical field. Once I found out I was having a baby, I made a decision to pivot, based on my need to be in the workforce but still wanting to pursue a secondary education. It was important to me to continue my education. I found a program that was only two years instead of four. I was able to do an associate’s program in culinary arts and because they also offered general education classes, I was able to get a degree and not just a certificate. 

Where did you go?
It was at the restaurant school at Walnut Hill College. 

Did you study pastry making there?
No! I went to school for savory foods, not bakery items. The cakes that I make are something that was self taught. I started out doing it from home. My first cake was something that I made for my son’s second birthday. I wasn’t thinking of it as a career choice at all. My son was obsessed with SpongeBob at the time, and I’m a pretty crafty, artsy person so I thought it would be fun. As a kid, I would always make things and draw, so I do have an art background. At his party, the guests all wanted to know where I bought the SpongeBob cake! I started making things for family and friends, especially around the holidays. I would bake things to give away and it just blossomed from there. That was 16 years ago. 

When did you transition from making things for friends and family to selling your wares?
It was pretty early on, because even though they were family and friends that I’d give things to, they were like, “You should be compensated for your work and your time.” I was experimenting and baking things for neighbors and our delivery people, but did I start charging for special requests. The prices were very low, just enough to cover my costs for ingredients and the decorative boxes and tins I’d package them in. It was fun and I never had any idea that it was something that would turn into a career. I was still working full time, so it wasn’t my primary source of income by any means. 

What took it from being a side hustle to the main event?
Once I started doing cakes regularly, I had a conversation with myself. OK, I’m finishing high school and I don’t know what to do. I wanted to go to school but I didn’t want to waste my parents’ money, so I took a gap year. They were nervous, [telling me] “If you take a gap year, you’ll never go back.” But I assured them, “No, I’m totally going back.” And as the cakes started getting popular, I thought, “I might have something here.” 

My grandmother had a catering business, so I grew up around food and I loved it. She was a nurse by day for about 30 years but also ran her own catering business on the side. It was very near and dear to her and she was a phenomenal cook. She still is at 85! She would take me into the kitchen when I was 7 and let me cook with her but mostly I loved watching her. 

I loved watching people cook. While most kids were watching cartoons in the afternoon, I was watched cooking shows and I’d play restaurant with my parents, so it was always fascinated by cooking. So when I was planning out my life, I was like, “OK, you have a kid to raise. I’ll have to pay for his college when he gets older, what are you going to do?” If you’re going to pick something, you’re going to do for the next 30+ years you need to find something you’re passionate about, not just choose something because you need money. You like to cook and people seem to love what you do. Let’s see where you can take it and I literally googled culinary schools and found the restaurant school. And the funny thing is I lived just blocks from the school so I went past it almost every day! They had a part-time two-year program and it was so close I could walk there, so it was perfect. It was part passion and part practicality. 

And when did you open the store?
It opened in August of 2021, so we’re still kind of young. It used to be a kosher bakery called Homemade Goodies by Roz. I worked for Roz for 10 years, starting right after I graduated and when she retired, she sold me the bakery. And that’s how we got here! 

That’s fantastic! Tell me a little about the store.
We are a custom cake studio. We do specialty cakes, wedding cakes, and we also have pastries available in the shop, everything from cheesecakes to cookies. We also offer classes here at what I call Sprinkled Sweetness Academy and we do events like Caking with a Twist which is like a paint party but with cake decorating instead! It’s a lot of fun. It’s for 21 and up and we serve appetizers and cocktails. We have parent and me classes for children as young as 3 years old and classes for 8 and up where we learn to use fondants, etc. I even have a “Cakepreneurship Camp.” And you can rent us for private events, whether it’s a bridal party or birthday party or a team-building corporate event. 

Let’s switch it up. What was coming out like for you?
Hmmmn, well, it was tough. My grandmother was the toughest nut to crack. She kind of discovered it when she and her brother were having a conversation and they were saying things that… let’s just say they weren’t being nice about queer people. It struck a nerve in me and I think her feeling was, “Why do you care? You seem to be taking this awfully personally.” I didn’t come out and say, “OK, here’s the thing…” sat down and said, “This is who I am,” but I think it was understood. She wasn’t happy at first but then got to see me in a very long-term, loving relationship and it became real to her. She was able to see this wasn’t something weird. It was just two people who loved each other and that was all. I was happy to see her come around. 

Cool. OK, let’s do some random questions. What’s your favorite cooking show?
OK, I’m going to give you an OG show, Julia Child. She’s the reason I chose food as a career. She was a woman in the midst of all these male chefs, who held her own. She was the one on TV when I was a little girl. She was tall. She wasn’t conventional, and I was an awkward kid so she just spoke to me. And her food was awesome! 

Play any instruments?
No, I played the clarinet for one year in fifth grade and was too bored to continue. But I have strong musician envy. I started my son on piano lessons when he was 5, and fortunately he loved it. He still plays to this day. 

Do you collect anything?
Yes, Barbie dolls. I’m a Barbie girl, always have been. My godmother collects dolls and she got me started. She collected all kinds — porcelain dolls, you name it — but I was Barbie all the way. She would buy me Barbies all the time and would give me a special one for Christmas. 

What was a favorite place to eat growing up?
They’re no longer in existence in Pennsylvania anymore, but I grew up in the ’90s so we would go to Sizzler’s and I loved it! It wasn’t fancy, but it was the kind of place where everybody’s jumping in the car on a Saturday night and we’re all going together. It was a family thing, and happy times. 

If you could go back to another era, which would you choose?
The ’70s! I was born in the late ’80s but I totally wish I was born in the ’70s! It just seemed like so much fun! The music, the clothes. it just seems like a cool time to have lived. 

Yes, yes it was. It was SO MUCH FUN!
I knew it! I knew it was! Even my mom was like, you should have been there! Looking at old pictures, it looks like you guys had the time of your lives.

For sure. What was a favorite ’70s group or song?
Oh, it was funk. Who’s the guy with the colorful hair?

George Clinton and the Funkadelics?
There you go! That’s it. 

Ha! In the ’80s (like everyone else), I carried a penlight around my neck in case the song “Flashlight” came on and we’d all hit the dance floor and shine them around. I actually met him at Sister’s one night. He was there when I was hosting karaoke and told me I should be one of his backup singers!
That’s so cool!

So back to you. What was your favorite childhood book?
It was a book called “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” and it was about a little African boy raising cows during the drought who finds a way to bring the rain. It was featured on “Reading Rainbow” with LeVar Burton and I loved it. We would have these Scholastic Book Fairs at my school and my mom would always give me money to buy books. She is an avid reader and installed the love of reading in me as well. So I found the book at the fair and I still have a copy of it to this day. 

What genre of books do you read the most?
These days, I read more nonfiction than anything else. I read a good bit of professional development books, and I do like a little bit of fantasy, so I mix it up on occasion but it’s mostly personal and professional development books.

I lean toward murder mysteries myself.
Oh, I do love a good true crime story! [Laughing] Wait, I don’t want to sound happy about someone getting killed. It’s unfortunate! But it is fascinating. 

Absolutely. There’s a reason “Law & Order” shows have been on for so long. We’re fascinated with this stuff. What do you like to do for fun?
I’m actually an introvert outside of work. I like to be at home in bed, under a blanket. I do like to go out to eat. I like dining experiences and trying out food from other chefs, but other than that, I’d be home. 

What misconceptions do people have about you?
Because I am a business woman and I have been for a very long time, and I guess, because especially as a woman there’s a certain energy you have to exude to be a boss and get things done, people mistakenly assume I’m aggressive, when actually I’m a big softie. I mean I do have a get-up-and-go, let’s hustle, mentality but when you’re in business for yourself, you have to. I’m a mom and I’ve got all these things going on that I have to take care of so I run a tight ship. That’s how you get your work done and your kid to chess practice while picking up supplies! So often when my son wants to bring friends over, they’ll tell him they’re nervous about meeting me. And I’m like, “Hey, I’m not scary! I’m actually cool! Don’t be intimidated!” 

You make cupcakes for God’s sake!
[Laughing] That’s right! I make cupcakes! How scary can I be? I make things with sugar. I’m like Willy Wonka! 

Sprinkled Sweetness is located on 510 S. 5th St. For more information, visit dessertsbysprinkledsweetness.com.

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