3-Course Interview: Donna Maloney_lowres

Donna Maloney (center) with her daughters Jac Start (left) and Kerry Sieff.

Anyone with a hardcore sweet tooth may already know about Donna Maloney, who with her two daughters runs the The Sweet Spot inside the St. Roch Market (2381 St. Claude Ave., 504-609-3813; www.strochmarket.com), where she sells bacon-pecan cinnamon rolls, gluten-free goodies and more. Maloney, a West Coast transplant, worked in the health care industry for more than 25 years before she decided to move to New Orleans three years ago. She spoke to Gambit about her new business.

How did you get started baking in New Orleans?

Maloney: I've been baking my entire life. I learned from my grandmother, who was a baker, my mother, who was also a baker, and my aunt. Certainly I've taken classes over the years, but mostly I've just been doing it all my life. I'm really passionate about it and I just love to do it.

  I moved here a couple years ago, but my daughters had already been here for a while. We're not from here but we all fell in love hard with the city. I was the last to come to town, but now we all live within a block from each other in the Marigny, just a couple of blocks away from the market.

  I had been baking for a couple of coffee shops in the area but then applied to get into the market and was thrilled when they accepted me. So my daughter quit her job and she's been helping me.

What has your experience at St. Roch Market been like so far?

M: It's been a wonderful experience. The owners did a wonderful job in choosing the vendors, and the food is incredible. Everyone has the same goal in mind and everyone is so helpful. As soon as the vandalism happened, you know who came and helped us clean up? The neighbors. The customers that we've had have been great, and everyone has been so positive.

  But it's also been difficult getting this whole new thing off the ground together at the same time, where every single system is new and fresh. I had no idea how much I would sell and how much it would take me to make that in this one kitchen, which we all share. I started out with three employees and I have 11 now. We're just not used to dealing with this type of volume, and we're all having to hire way more help than any of us had ever dreamed of. But it's all coming together.

  We share employees, too. If I interview someone and they might not be right for our place but I think they might work out for someone else, I pass their name along. And we share resources and suggestions. Everyone is talking with each other, and we're going to keep fine-tuning it.

What's surprised you so far about the business?

M: The amount of bread pudding we sell. It's pecan praline, and people just love it. I also make dog biscuits. In the beginning I just thought it would be cute, but we sell almost 100 dog biscuits a day. It's just how it goes. You want to listen to what your customers want. We're open to suggestions to what people like, and people love to tell you what their favorite dessert is.

  We're going to try and introduce a new item every couple of weeks; we've been practicing with homemade [toaster pastries] and we just started serving homemade ice cream. We're going to make ice cream sandwiches using homemade chocolate chip cookies, and we make a bacon-pecan cinnamon roll.

  We also try to have gluten-free options every day. It's a big goal of mine to make sure that I cater to the gluten-free community. I've got a lot of friends in the community who have gluten allergies and I want to make sure that when they come here, we have that option for them.