After more than 30 years caring for others, Rose Harris and Debra Allen, two licensed practical nurses, are now in the business of healing the heart and soul … with pies.
In 2010, the business partners and longtime friends took a leap of faith when they decided to launch their very own bakery, Sweet Delights, specializing in key lime pies and cakes.
“One day it hit me, just like that … boom! I told Rose, ‘The Lord said we should open a shop,’ ” Allen said.
With no business experience, they plunged right in. The two put their money together and started selling their tangy-sweet pies from parking lots and at school functions. After months of searching, they secured the perfect site, a 672-square-feet cement block building in their Goulds neighborhood. They opened the store, located next to a strip club, in December 2010.
“We made $10 the first day,” Allen said. “Some days we don’t make much. But whether we make no money or a million dollars, we are so happy doing this.”
When they first moved in the building it was an empty “big shell.” In 2012 they made repairs and renovations with funds from a Mom and Pop Small Business Grant, an initiative from the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance and other resources for small businesses.
The building, deemed a historic landmark, has a history of its own. Purchased in 1952 by Bert “Lee” Wexelbaum, a New York native, Lee’s Bakery was renowned for its key lime pies. An article published by The Associated Press in 1987 states Wexelbaum came up with a secret recipe, but never actually baked the pies himself. He also sold and distributed key lime juice.
Wexelbaum passed away in 2011. His picture and a copy of the article are framed in the store as a tribute.
What they lacked in business experience Harris and Allen made up with culinary skills and creativity. Sweet Delights offers 10 flavors of key lime pie – original, guava, passion fruit, mamey, mango, banana, coconut, strawberry, mixed berry, and soursop. A sugar-free version is available upon request in advance.
Originally from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and now retired, Allen comes in around 7 a.m. to begin baking, including her original, unique recipes, such as a Key Lime Cake, Caribbean Rum Cake and her customer favorite “Love Cake.” Harris, who grew up in the area and still works as a school nurse, handles the business part.
While those familiar with the area recognize the bright, lemon-colored building at the corner of U.S. 1 and Southwest 231st Street, others discover it by accident, most often on the way to or from The Keys or farms down south.
“Now I don’t have to drive all the way to Key West for some authentic key lime pie,” said Chandra Walker of Miami Gardens, who caught a glimpse of the “Real Key-Lime Pie” sign painted on the side of the building in black, bold letters.
Perhaps what makes Sweet Delights so unique is the personal attention the ladies give their customers. As Walker stepped inside with her family, they were greeted with big smiles and Allen ran over to begin slicing free samples.
“Everybody who comes in has a story,” Harris said. “I love to listen to the stories.”
Don Lockenbach, an architect from Kendall, visits Sweet Delights nearly every weekend since the store first opened. He said he loves to sit and chat with the ladies. Over time they established a barter system where he brings them homemade barbecue in exchange for some pie or cake.
“I fell in love with the ladies,” Lockenbach said. “We have this connection to food.”
Harris and Allen want to eventually make the jump to distributing their baked goods to local markets. Recently, they have been receiving orders for private and commercial events, such as baby showers, birthdays, a NASCAR event, and Harley Davidson store anniversary.
They would also like to provide a training ground for students in public schools in culinary programs, hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams and be a positive force in their community.
“People will say, ‘What can come out of the Goulds?’ We want to be like a little lighthouse,” Allen said.