A Labor of Love
Chef Jan Leonard loves baking for the Little River community at Life is Sweet Bakery.
When Chef Jan Leonard opened the Life is Sweet Bakery in Little River in June of 2016, she drew on a wealth of experience.
Graduating from the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach in 2014 with an associate’s degree in Culinary and Baking and Pastry Arts, Leonard went on to the Chicago area to attend The Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art.
“It was a great learning experience because at that point I knew I wanted to focus on baking and not on cooking,” Leonard says.
“After graduation I worked with some amazing chefs at a catering company in Myrtle Beach. Chefs Tom Mullally and Randi Rimedio both taught me a lot. Having book knowledge is great, but getting hands-on experience as a baker alongside some pros meant all the difference to me. I learned what my strengths were, and I also learned different ways of doing things.”
Leonard currently has four full-time employees at Life is Sweet, and they back the most delicious sweets.
“I have a wide selection of sweet treats to satisfy anyone’s need,” Leonard says. “Some of our most popular items are cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, eclairs and cream puffs. Gluten-free options are available, too.”
Originally from Waynesville, North Carolina, Leonard has also lived in Charlotte and Greensboro. It was while watching her mother cook and bake in their kitchen that Jan Leonard got the “baking bug.”
“As a little girl I was always fascinated watching the many different dishes and desserts that my mom whipped up,” Leonard says. “As a teenager I worked in a bakery in my hometown of Waynesville, which is near Asheville, and that’s where my love for baking continued. It gave me the desire to become a bakery owner, but I knew that I’d have to take a few steps along the way to make that dream come true.”
Leonard moved to the coastal area of South Carolina in 1999. Working in the food industry until 2000, she took a break from it and worked as an office manager. In 2009 when the recession was still going on, she was laid off from her job so she decided to go back to school and study what she loves most. Along the way she received an associate’s degree in business to help prepare her for the financial aspects of running a business.
“Finding the location and putting the open sign on the door were major steps,” Leonard says. “The rest is history. Sometimes things have a way of working out even when at first we don’t see how they will.”
The bakery’s busiest days are Tuesday and Saturday for some reason, and most days at 2 pm lots of customers pop in. “We close at 3 p.m. so I guess people make quick stops for their fresh-baked goods before closing time,” Leonard says.
About baking as a profession, Leonard calls it a labor of love.
“Doing it as a full-time job means getting up early in the morning to start baking and get things going so all of the baked goods are fresh for the customers,” she says. “The kitchen always smells so good with the aroma of blueberry muffins and chocolate cookies baking in the oven. It’s a smell a baker knows so well. Whether I’m baking cupcakes, pies or holiday cakes, I love what I’m doing and that ingredient always shines through.
“It’s especially rewarding to bake custom cakes for all sorts of special occasions — for birthdays, anniversaries, confirmations and more. Wedding cakes are always fun. Most brides and grooms know what they want, and I work hard to make their special day extra special.”