“I was born to bake,” says Hollie West, owner of Sweet Monkey Bakery & Café, a restaurant that opened this summer in downtown Marshall. As a kid growing up in Maui, Hawaii, West begged her mom to buy her an Easy-Bake Oven. “But mom said, ‘No, you have a real one to play with,’” she recalls, “and that’s where it all started.”
The “all” West refers to is a lifelong culinary obsession that started with her volunteering to help the lunch ladies at her elementary school — when she moved on to middle school, she baked them bread as a thank-you gift for letting her hang out with them.
Ultimately, her passion led her to a degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Seattle then to stints running a Wildflower Bread Co. franchise in Arizona and later as a pastry chef at L’Apogée Harwigs in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Savoy in Asheville.
In 2003, when asked to do a freelance baking job, she realized that four 10-inch cakes would fit in her home oven, and the Sweet Monkey Bakery was born. For more than a decade, West sold her homemade bread and pastries at local tailgate markets, gradually growing her business to include catering and weddings.
Sweet Monkey eventually outgrew West’s home kitchen in Marshall (where she had installed a second oven to keep up with demand), and she moved production to the Madison County Cooperative Extension’s Madison Farms Value Added Center kitchen. Although West still maintains a presence at several local farmers markets, she made the leap in late July to open her own brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“I just kept outgrowing each facility I was using,” she says. “I needed a place that could do everything and anything I wanted to do, including music festivals, catering weddings — anything involving food, folks and a great time.”
Although all the bread and pastries are made in-house, Sweet Monkey — named after a term of endearment West says she used with friends in her 20s — is now much more than just a bakery. The Main Street restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, a recently added plated dinner menu and weekend brunches along with beer, wine and sake cocktails.
Ingredients for most of the menu items are sourced locally. Breakfast offerings include French toast made with scratch-baked orange-cinnamon-twist bread, which sells for $7.99. At lunchtime, the Cluck Madame, a broiled chicken breast coated with Parmesan mayonnaise and served on roasted garlic-rosemary bread with tomato and bacon pesto aioli, will set you back $11.99, while a bacon-kale-mayonnaise sandwich costs $8.99.
One standout among the brunch items is the Sunny Side of the Day — poblano peppers stuffed with local chorizo, leeks and chevre on a bed of loaded grits and topped with eggs and house remoulade — for $13.99.
The new five-item dinner menu will feature beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian dishes that will change from week to week. The sake cocktails get creative, with choices such as the Naughty Geisha — a bloody mary with sake, locally made tomato cider, wasabi, garlic, chili sauce, lime, sesame oil and soy sauce — and the Sakito, featuring sake and a house-made elixir of honeydew, cucumber, lemon, lime and mint.
The Sweet Monkey Bakery & Café will have a food tent at the Art on the Island Festival in Marshall on Saturday, Sept. 27. Also, for those planning ahead, West will host a Halloween party for adults starting at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31, after Marshall’s downtown children’s trick-or-treat event. Admission will be free, but costumes are required.
Sadly, revelers shouldn’t plan for brunch at Sweet Monkey the following day: “We will be closed on Saturday, Nov. 1, to recover,” she says.
Sweet Monkey Bakery & Café, 133 S. Main St., Marshall. 9 a.m.-9 p.m Monday and Wednesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Look for “The Sweet Monkey Bakery” on Facebook. 649-2489