Ellie Sutherland of Sweetie-licious Bakery

Sweet as Pie

Serving up baked goods and a slice of nostalgia in downtown DeWitt, Ellie Sutherland is carrying on the tradition of her mom’s pie shop

When you’re in the business of baking, each day brings plenty of sweet opportunities. For Ellie Sutherland, general manager of Sweetie-licious Bakery in DeWitt, the mission of spreading love through pie is something very close to her heart. As the daughter of the bakery’s creator and pie queen, Linda Hundt, Ellie grew up watching her mom pursue her dream of making pies. She helped her mom sell pies at the DeWitt Farm Market and had her first job when the pie shop on Bridge Street opened in 2005.

After studying food science at Michigan State University and working in jobs around the Midwest, Ellie returned to Michigan to help run the family business. From award-winning pies to a love of family and tradition, Ellie has the recipe for sweet success.

On growing up baking:

Growing up in DeWitt, I did more of my baking with my grandmas. My mom worked full time before having the pie shop, so our experience of baking together was when she started to sell pies from our back porch and the farm market. I remember sitting there whisking cream pie for her on the stove while she was on the phone or making a thousand other things. Making the cream pies, that's a big memory of mine. I remember even working on the lunch menu at home because she knew she needed lunch to make sure people had another reason to come in besides just buying a pie. That was a big part of the pre-shop era.

I don't know if my mom would ever say I was the best employee, but I was always there. She started with pies at the DeWitt Farmers Market. I love the farm market. I thought that was the coolest thing – that was when I was about 12 or 13. And then the physical pie shop opened in 2005 when I was 15, and it was my first job.

It was all hands on deck. My dad and my mom and my aunts and uncles and friends and everybody was in the shop, scraping the ceiling, painting the place. The building itself was originally a post office and one of the older buildings in DeWitt. I think back when I was that young, I was not processing any of the financial risk or the hardships of starting a business. My mom naturally had an affinity for business and her marketing and branding. She just knew what she wanted; she wanted a retro pie shop with what she was good at, which was the baking and spreading love through her baked goods, telling her stories and the stories of grandparents and aunts and people of the past who made pie such a special thing. It's not just a little part of what the shop is. It's the whole part.

On moving away from home – and moving back:

I went to Michigan State and studied food science. It was just the right fit for what I liked to do and what I thought I was good at. I always loved food – my mom always had dessert – so I knew that about myself. I got a job with ConAgra Foods right out of school and worked in Omaha, Nebraska, on frozen foods. And then I popped over to St. Louis for a while and worked on private label cereal as a food scientist.

My mom’s health really declined and there was just a lot going on with the shop. We had a conversation, and it was an ask and an offer of, ‘I think I'm going to come home.’ It made sense to join her doing this, and I wanted to. I'm trying to pay student loans, and I just went to school for a career that I am deciding to leave, so I felt some risk there as well. But it just felt like the right time, and I feel passionate about this place.

On keeping up the tradition of selling at farmer’s markets:

I am so happy we're back because we took a break during COVID from the farm market; with staffing, we just couldn't do it. Our whole staff basically flipped over post-COVID. We had a lot of people retire that were here from the beginning. To be able to get enough staff, train everybody up and have extra people for the farm market, it took a hot second. But last summer we were back at the Meridian Farmers’ Market and the Capitol, our two favorites. And for now, we're happy with just being there. But the DeWitt Farmers Market has a fun, magical vibe. I think we all kind of want to be the people who get to go every weekend, between the bakers and our counter staff, because it is just so fun. It's the people. Everyone's there for the same reason and wants the same delicious stuff and all of the benefits of being in Michigan with the farmers and bakers and artisans, and it's a joy. I love it. I wish we could be there every week. Sometimes we are there every weekend. I think this year for sure we'll have enough staff to do it.

On spreading the love of pie to the DeWitt community:

As we were working on annual reviews, I had an employee who was very good about saying, ‘COVID is over, how are we connecting back with our community?’ We have such a strong group of regulars – they're so loyal and wonderful and sweet, and we're happy for them to be here. Still, DeWitt is getting a lot bigger, and I want to know too how we're connecting on a bigger level with everyone, because we are a bit of an older business at this point. Being able to connect more again with the people coming in, having an experience, having a slice of pie, experiencing the nostalgia – I'm just so proud of our staff because they do love deeply and they love everyone as much as the product. They show up here every day with a smile and want to spread that. We’re just this tiny little brick building, making pies and wanting to make sure that we're spreading that love through pie and through the nostalgia of our foremothers who created not just the recipes, but the work that goes into it, because the pie is a lot of work.

On her role with Sweetie-licious Bakery and carrying on the legacy:

I'm our general manager. My mom always loves to say that I'm also the owner, but that's absolutely not true yet. But I think that that is on its way. Right now I'm managing, but we all wear a lot of hats here. I'm baking, scheduling and doing all those sorts of things to try to be Linda. I'm not Linda, but a lot of people think I am. I guess I've aged 30 years? We have the same face, so I might as well just keep passing on the legacy.

I hope to be able to spread as much love as my mom has been able to do, because she is the pie queen. It wouldn't be Sweetie-licious without her, so there are big shoes to fill, and rolling pins to take over. But that's what I want, to be her and to continue this legacy. I’m not as much of a schemer and dreamer, but every day I find new ways to make it my own in a way that I know that she'll be proud of and is proud of. It's a team effort for both of us, and she's still in the bakery creating. She likes to say she's semi-retired, but I've got her running all around the town. She's getting groceries. She's doing everything. In more recent years, when we're able to collaborate, especially food-wise, I feel like we really can create some amazing things together. Things like our scone recipe we did together, and our new almond cookie recipe. We do the baking classes, and I'm learning so much. I need to learn more.

On raising kids in the place where she grew up:

I love the ability to say they're being raised in the bakery and if you're here enough, you'll see my kids. They have a wonderful group of aunties here that help take care of them. I'm beyond lucky and blessed to be able to raise them not only in this town but a town that accepts and loves small businesses. This community is wonderful at supporting these small businesses, and they do it gladly. My kids see that, and they see what it means to be a member of a community that gives back.

And Michigan? I could go on all day. I remember when I lived in St. Louis, somebody was like, ‘Oh you Michigan people just love to brag about your state.’ And we do! We've got the lakes; we've got up north. We have these wonderful small towns that are accessible, and you can whip right around and experience something cool and fun in a town just down the road. And to see the support, I just can't imagine being anywhere else.

I also think Michigan is the place for pie. That doesn't mean just us – there are a lot of great pie companies in Michigan – and much of that has to do with that beautiful fruit belt on the west coast of the state. But also, we've got sugar and wheat and everything growing here in Michigan. We’re in a special spot that can grow all those things so well, cherries and other fruits. And then there’s the whole pasty thing. That's a very Michigan thing as well, and that really is a pie. It just reiterates once again that Michigan is a place for pie, and I love that about it here.