The sweet life with Kat Palmisano
CM: In July, owners David Bouffard and Bill Bowick sold their 12-year-old bakery and moved to Maine. What’s happened since then?
KP: This place is their baby, and they wanted to see it grow. I’m the person who is keeping everything running smoothly, continuing what they started. Sugar has become a tourist destination, yes, but I don’t think that’s the real reason it’s been so successful. It’s part of local families’ traditions, like Friday after-school cookies in the courtyard; we also support local activist and charity groups. That’s a testament to how rooted in the community Sugar is. Ninety-five percent of the people who come in here are in such a great mood. The customers are what makes this place so special.
CM: How did you end up working in the food world?
KP: I grew up in the suburbiest of suburbs in Ohio, and I was always cooking and baking with my family. In middle school, I told all my friends I was going to be a chef. I pictured myself cooking in restaurants. I never thought I would bake for a living.
CM: So what changed?
KP: I was 29 when I realized my body was starting to hurt, being on my feet until 1 a.m., six days a week. The restaurants I worked for didn’t have full pastry programs, so it fell on me as sous chef to make desserts. At Toro (in Boston), we had churros. At Two Boroughs Larder here in Charleston, we had oatmeal pie. So I had experience, but I didn’t have formal pastry training before arriving at Sugar in 2015. I immediately found that I loved all the customer interaction that comes with working at a local bakery.
CM: In your opinion, is there an iconic Sugar baked good?
KP: Definitely the vanilla blueberry cupcake. That’s our top seller, and it’s even painted on the side of the building. We use these vibrant yolks from Chucktown Chicken for a yellow cupcake with vanilla buttercream icing. The finishing touch: fresh blueberries rolled in sugar and placed on top. It’s super simple, classic, wholesome, and the berries provide this extra special little treat.
CM: What are your favorite festive December sweets at the shop?
KP: I grew up eating snickerdoodle cookies around the holidays, so we sell those along with chocolate peppermint cookies—one of my favorite combinations. Our customers love our Charleston single gingerbread house kits (modeled after David and Bill’s former house next door). We bake all the pieces, make the icings, and bag up the candy, people, dogs, and trees so customers can decorate and put together everything themselves.
CM: Anything new in store for 2020?
KP: I love our recipes here because a lot of them have been passed down through Bill’s family. They have a history, and it sounds corny and eye-rolly to say they’re “full of love,” but when you bake a cream cheese citrus pound cake from a recipe handwritten by his mom, it makes a difference. We’ll continue to experiment with new desserts and cupcake flavors. I’m excited for growth and change but also want to keep what’s worked for so many years. Bill and David wanted to protect the soul of Sugar, not just because they care deeply about the bakery but because the community cares—and so do I.