SIMPLY SWEET

Almost 15 years in, Sweet 16th Bakery is a Lockeland Springs institution

  • Your average breakfast sandwich: greasy egg on dry English muffin, pieces sloppily sliding when you lift for a bite. The breakfast sandwich at East Nashville’s Sweet 16th, aka “one to go”: fluffy, perfectly seasoned egg souffle on a rich, split cheddar scone, masterfully composed, worth gripping like Kate Winslet holding onto a raft in an icy ocean.
          That sandwich — and so many cakes, pastries, tarts, and more — has made Sweet 16th a Lockeland Springs institution for some 15 years now (as of next May). And the magic behind owners Ellen and Dan Einstein’s magic is, fittingly enough, simple but sweet. Before there was Sweet 16th, there was Ellen, styling food on TV for (the original) Mr. Food, aka Art Ginsburg, then catering, then baking goodies in her own kitchen for years, with Dan coming home at nights from his music executive job (Al Bunetta Management, Oh Boy Records, and others line his resume) to wash dishes.
          The demand for Ellen’s baking outgrew her kitchen around the same time that Dan realized he was ready to leave the music business.
          “I had no idea how I was going to fit into this whole scheme,” Dan says. “We’re both apron-string trained. I’ve worked in restaurants just on and off from the time I was a teenager in kitchens, so this all made sense, and it just kind of naturally fell into place.”
          What’s naturally fallen into place over the years: a sparkling-clean little bakery that blends familiarity with sweet surprises. The same insanely good chocolate chip cookie that they baked on day one is still on the menu, sold from a glass jar on top of the counter. Others — like the coffee crack cookie, or the cornflake cookie, or whatever else someone’s feeling for that day’s bake — are piled up temptingly in other big jars that line the length of the countertop. Heavenly scones and their brothers, the cheddar scones, are sold on the daily too.
          Sweet 16th’s entire pastry case is an ode to teamwork. “Everyone who works with us has to come with their own bag of tricks,” says Ellen, who makes sure everything fits together seamlessly. Their crew stays small — three full-timers plus Dan and Ellen — but intensely creative. One example is that famous breakfast sandwich, which has been featured in Food & Wine. It wouldn’t have happened, they say, without the bakery’s very first employee, Big Al, who now owns his own restaurant in North Nashville’s Salemtown neighborhood.
          Sweet 16th’s baking philosophy is European, fused with home-style. “We agreed we wanted small-batch, never a production thing,” says Ellen. “It was more about, ‘Yeah, we’re making it fresh every day.’ And we have the ability to change it up every day.”
          To keep from going stale, they pull inspiration from family (“My father said to my sister, ‘I don’t know how she’s gonna make it just selling cookies, they’ve gotta do breakfast and lunch,’” says Ellen), from friends (she tweaked a recipe from food writer Debbie Puente for their much-loved blueberry muffin), and from traveling. The couple had an incredible quiche on one of their frequent trips to Paris, as Ellen recalls. “I said, ‘I’ve got to decode this and Americanize it.’ We always pick up something from travel.”
          When the couple first opened the bakery, they planned and prepped for months figuring out what would go in the case, a selection of the bakery’s now-signature, simple but spectacular creations. They sold out by 11 on that first day, and when they closed, Dan says, “Ellen sat down and wept openly.” It was so overwhelming, how could they possibly do it all again — and in time for the next day?
          Somehow, they managed. And they kept managing, even though some days were just “crickets and tumbleweeds,” Dan says. They added a lineup of savory items to the bakery stable. They spoiled little ones — and sometimes not-so-little ones — with a birthday cookie or cupcake, gratis. They greeted a steady, first-name-basis crew of regulars.
          Now, almost 15 years in and such a fixture in the neighborhood… Can East Nashville count on another 15 years of Sweet 16th? The Einsteins wordlessly exchange the kind of look that only a husband and wife can decipher, in that secret love language woven from days in, days out together in a cozy neighborhood bakery.
          So 2033: still a mystery. But just in case, you should pop in tomorrow morning and order one to go.