Sari Sari Sweets: Better Than Grandma's

Sari Sari Sweets: Better Than Grandma’s

By Molly McConnell 

A young boy walks away from Leslie Heintzman’s laden tables at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, eating a chocolate glazed yeasted doughnut. After chewing a bite, he says to his father, “I love you, Daddy.”

Most regulars at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market can attest to feeling the same love while eating a pastry from Heintzman’s Sari Sari Sweets booth, located on the rear arc of the market. The booth is marked by tables laden with pastry cases, and the middle one, a red-capped house, holds the warmed pastries. Even with only 10 minutes left before the close of the market, three people wait in line, and some even stop by after the close of the market. Last week, while taking photographs, I overheard her telling someone that a couple from Boston came down and sought out her booth and bought out all of her mushroom and leek tarts, in addition to a sampling of other goods.

Heintzman, with her dark hair in a side braid and chandelier earrings, said she learned her love of cooking from her grandmother. While spending childhood summers at her grandmother’s house in Maryland, she says there was little else to do than help in the garden or in the kitchen.

“I had an insane obsession with food,” she said.  

Always ready with a laugh, except when the customer line begins to grow and her face sets into concentration, she smiles when talking about her father. An attorney, he told his daughters they shouldn’t expect to marry a rich man, but to make enough of a living for themselves and three children. So Heintzman laughs and says she chose music, specifically vocal performance.

“And my parents said, ‘So now what?’” she said.

After taking time to work in a restaurant kitchen, Heintzman attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

“So this is what Harry Potter felt like when he walked into Hogwarts,” she said, describing how she felt entering the school the first time.

We are interrupted by a hopeful customer who is too late —  all of his inquiries about cookies and scones are met with a, “Nope, sold out!”

Heintzman and her husband met in Roanoke, Va., and after she graduated from the Culinary Institute with a culinary arts degree, he had moved to Carrboro, so she joined him here. She began working at the Weaver Street Market Bakery and shopped the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. At the time, there weren’t too many vendors selling cooked food, so she decided to go for it.

“And that was 10 years ago,” she said.

Sari Sari Sweets — according to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market profile, “‘sari sari’ means ‘variety’ in Tagalog, the Filipino language” — started by offering six varieties of pastry. Now there are 35 to 40, though not necessarily all at once.

Heintzman makes a point to make seasonal goods, buy local and buy some of her ingredients from other vendors at the market. She prepares doughs and crusts on Thursdays and bakes on Fridays. At the beginning, she worked with one oven and would bake for 15 to 16 hours. Now, with three ovens, she can do it in 10. During the fall and winter, when the demand is lower and the market hours are shorter, she can finish in four.

When asked about the most popular item, Heintzman says everyone has their preferences. The pecan sticky buns, though, caused riots when she refused to bake them for six months.

“I told them I was going to raise the price (from $2 to $3), and they said, ‘You could charge $10 for them and we’d still buy them!’” she said.

Her husband’s family feels just as strongly about the sticky buns. Last August, while at the beach, Heintzman would reach for a coffee mug and find a sticky bun that someone had stashed away for safekeeping.

I, too can vouch for the goods. The sundried tomato and goat cheese roll is a favorite, as is the blueberry buttermilk doughnut. But in the winter, the warm apple fritters are comforting. Some customers, like the fans of the sticky buns, have specific preferences, but every time I look through the cases at Sari Sari Sweets, I see another pastry or savory roll I want to try.

The booth is popular, and customers have asked her in the past if she would ever move to a brick-and-mortar shop. And now that the excuses she’s used in the past are gone — her youngest son will start school next fall — Heintzman is beginning to consider it.

The idea is growing more appealing financially. “I’ve got kids to think about,” she said. She and her husband want to stay in the area, and Chapel Hill and Carrboro could benefit from a bakery.

The fear of opening a shop is that the product would lose her personal touch.

“I had a hand in everything I sold today,” she said. Heintzman only hires outside help to work the table at the market, never to assist in the baking process.

We begin discussing the pastries again, and when I ask about her favorite ingredient to cook with, there is no question.

“Chocolate, duh!”

Her style goes back to the basics. She seeks to return to childhood favorites and make a better version of it. One woman came to her after eating the lemon chess pie and said, “Don’t tell my grandmother, but yours is better.” The grandmother tried it and agreed. Heintzman likes hearing this feedback. She wants to offer goods that everyone knows and loves.

“Simple but good,” she said. And walking away with a brown bag slowly spotting with moisture from a doughnut or yeasted roll, one can appreciate her dedication to that motto.