Amy Chasan grew up baking with her mom — it’s always been one of the artist’s many creative outlets. So, after settling in to a career in youth development and arts education in the nonprofit sector, and seeing firsthand the ramifications of budgetary restrictions and the subsequent detrimental effects on pupils’ confidence, academic success, and overall life trajectory, she turned back to her childhood pastime to deal with the stress. What started out as a hobby steadily turned into a business; Chasan would stay up baking into the early morning, filling orders for a growing roster of clients. After a year of juggling two careers, she made the switch to baking full-time with her catering, wholesale, and online bakery, Sweet Generation (130 First Avenue; 646-964-5777). The company recently expanded its operations yet again, with the opening of its first brick-and-mortar outpost in the East Village.
Since 2011, Chasan has been making a name for herself in the cupcake world: In 2013, she got our pick for “Best Cupcake New York.” The creative flavors and impressive presentation of the desserts are a huge part of the draw, with options like French lavender and lemon (decorated with a swirl of frosting in the same hue), strawberry malted milkshake (adorned with a malt ball and mini-straw), rose gold (topped with a delicate flower), and chocolate cayenne and salted caramel. But Chasan’s socially conscious business model is even more impressive.
Combining her arts background, youth outreach experience, and baking expertise, Sweet Generation aims to give back. Working from several angles, the company runs programs in conjunction with several nonprofits. Its youth internship program is the most prominent. Chasan has partnered with a few local organizations, including Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in East New York, Boys Club of New York in the East Village, and the Center for Arts Education, to teach baking, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to teens and young adults from low-income, at-risk communities. Offered to kids 16 to 24, the programs can run for six weeks (in the summer) to a full year, but most of the participants work on-site for about three months, correlating with the school semesters. Just a month into the new space, Chasan already has four interns, with two students in the front- and another two in the back-of-house. “For many of them, it’s their first job experience and first experience of success,” says Chasan.
The philanthropy doesn’t end there, though; Sweet Generation sponsors and donates to arts education — the new storefront gives Chasan even more opportunity to do so. During the renovation of the shop, Chasan and her staff installed a magnetic art wall to highlight young emerging artists. The plan is to rotate the works and featured organizations every couple months or so. Timed with the opening of the shop, the first showcase boasts works from middle school students from Greenpoint’s M.S. 126. Next up is the Center for Arts Education, followed by the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy. “Having a retail storefront creates a much more formal, structured environment,” says Chasan. “We really want to use this space to be a cultural, creative hub for New York City arts.”
She also donates a portion of the proceeds from certain products to different organizations. The bakery houses the official cupcake of She’s the First, an organization dedicated to girls’ education in developing countries. To raise funds, the nonprofit runs an annual bake-off encouraging people to make tie-dyed baked goods; Chasan offers a tie-dye cupcake and cupcake sandwich to help out. For the Theatre for a New Audience, she creates customized products based on the current show, which are available in the shop and the venue’s café. Right now, the featured treat is walnut pomegranate. “The last play they did took place in Persia,” says Chasan. “I wanted a cupcake celebrating the flavors and foods of Persia. Also, it’s seasonal. Pomegranate is abundant and delicious during the early winter months.”
While the storefront has allowed Chasan to expand upon her philanthropic endeavors, it has also given her the chance to expand her repertoire and overall business. She’s offering a wider selection of baked goods, including a new chocolate salted brownie (it’s so popular, she can barely keep it on the shelves), gluten-free lemon bars with crushed almond crust, and savory biscuits with flavors like traditional Southern buttermilk, blue cheese, and cheddar scallion. Coffee has been sourced from Brooklyn Roasting Company. Even more cookies, turnovers, and other baked goods are now available. And new vegan and more gluten-free options are slowly being added to the lineup.
Given the intricate designs of her baked goods, it’s surprising that Chasan is not formally trained. Many of the recipes and flavors have been created from customer requests, but most have come from her own family recipes and her fiancé’s mom, who jumped in to help Chasan keep up with orders eight or nine months in. To learn icing techniques, Chasan shadowed other bakers and studiously watched YouTube videos on how to pipe frosting and other techniques. Since growing the business, however, she’s been able to add two professional bakers to her staff.
Sweet Generation is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Chasan plans to extend the hours in the summer.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.