Schweet Cheesecake is the love child of husband and wife team Brian and Chamille Weddington. Born of the couple’s passion for food, Schweet (pronounced shh-wee-t) is family-owned and operated by the duo and their adult daughter. Schweet’s shop is tucked into a bustling business corridor made up of black-owned businesses like Brown Sugar Bakery in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. It’s the other thriving Austin that doesn’t get much shine but should.
The Weddingtons are proud Austin-natives and current residents of the West Side neighborhood. “We love and know the community and it’s the community that’s the real currency of the business,” says Brian (a.k.a. “The Crustmaster”). With backgrounds in education, the Weddingtons leaned into Chamille’s expertise as a business and entrepreneurship professor while planning their business model.
Schweet launched as an e-commerce business before expanding into brick-and-mortar one year later. “We created our own website just to put it there and let it sit and just planned to do something with it incrementally,” Chamille says. When one day Chamille heard a chime — that was the sound of her website notifying her that the very first Schweet cheesecake had sold. But for Chamille, that moment was much more than just a sale, it was an affirmation of the couple’s hard work. “It’s just amazing when someone truly sees the value in something that you’ve created, that means you’ve monetized that thing — there’s an exchange of value and that means a lot.”
The Weddingtons built their business methodically, choosing to bootstrap and keep overhead low. “We’ve got a nice model that works and it was carefully crafted,” Chamille says with an intentional stare emphasizing her point. She continues slowly, “It was done in a thoughtful way and we’re not budging.”
Part of their strategy includes taking product directly to consumers at festivals, events, and pop-up shops. Sampling is a low cost and low-risk way for consumers to try a new product and the Weddingtons get to tell their brand story directly. This type of interaction has gained Schweet a significant following, even successfully converting consumers who were previously loyal to other legacy brands.
Made from scratch without preservatives or additives, Schweet’s cheesecake is less dense than traditional cheesecakes, making for a lighter dessert that’s different from grocery varieties. “You can tell when something is store-bought or frozen because it tastes like cardboard,” Chamille explains. Yet even as the company scales up, keeping a fresh taste and artisanal quality is a risk that she’s willing to take. “Shelf life is short and that’s also a challenge, but that’s our value proposition and we’re not going to budge. Because the minute we budge and start chasing that paper, we’ve got to compromise to extend the life.”
But other challenges are harder to measure. The Weddingtons touch on implicit bias they’ve experienced in the F&B industry. “I think that there is possibly an elitist mindset in place by perhaps people who run the (food and beverage) industry, the tastemakers, the opinion leaders, and they determine what’s appropriate what’s legitimate,” Chamille says. “Much like the modeling industry, they determine the body type, and when you determine the body type, you can influence the consumer.” Brian adds, “There sometimes is a misconception that, ‘Oh, it’s black-owned, they’re going to have a particular clientele,’ or ‘I don’t want to go over there. They’re in a particular area that might not be suitable for my psyche.’ We have to fight a little bit extra.”
The Weddingtons found key community partnerships in the Austin African-American Business Network Association and the Westside Health Authority, which offered the couple a storefront in their building. Even though expanding the business wasn’t part of the Weddington’s short term plan, the opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar location was too good to pass up. “You know, when you stir up the universe and you commit to building up your community, things happen,” Brian says. “Directions you think you’re going in — no, God has a different route for you.” The couple agrees wholeheartedly that developing a strong network is a valuable ingredient to their success, “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11 because no one does anything alone,” Chamille says.
Even with Schweet’s growth and expansion, the fundamentals of transacting a sale is something that the Weddingtons don’t take for granted. In fact, Chamille sees it as a powerful experience that business owners should honor. “I think anyone who sells anything should go back to the basics and just be in that place of gratitude,” Chamille says. “And if someone says, ‘I want to give my hard earned money to you, here, you take this and you give me that,’ that is a fair exchange and that’s deep.”