Love in the Time of Boxed Brownies
For Savie Arnold, proprietor and mastermind behind Sweetie Pie by Savie, embracing her passion meant moving to the other side of the world. Arnold grew up without an oven in her house – in Thailand, kitchens are typically outdoors, and bread is seldom eaten. She learned stovetop basics and prep work from her mother, who ran a restaurant, but discovered baking via television. Unfortunately, as a scholarship student, Arnold had neither the means nor the time to bake until 2005, when she came to the University of Georgia to develop her thesis.
In her new, oven-equipped apartment, Arnold taught herself to bake, starting with boxed cake and brownie mixes. Baking wasn’t the only thing that captured her heart, however. She fell in love with Speedy Arnold, a language immersion instructor who eventually became her husband and biggest supporter. Speedy was ready to do anything for her, from helping her study to moving to Thailand for seven years.
“When he said, ‘Yes, I’ll go with you,’ that’s something,” Arnold said.
In Bangkok, Speedy built a baking area in Arnold’s house and bought the tiny oven that helped launch her business. Sweetie Pie by Savie was born in 2011 and operated in Arnold’s Bangkok home until 2013, when she and Speedy returned to Athens. Arnold got a job at Donderos’ Kitchen and learned how to make specialty items, notably gluten-free and vegan cakes. Although she only worked in the back, she observed how the staff dealt with people. She also gained the friendship of Eric Rusiecki, an intern and interim baker who familiarized her with the restaurant business. Arnold considers Rusiecki her business consultant: when she told him she wanted to start her own business, he helped devise a plan. Even now, he still looks into Sweetie Pie’s system and gives her advice.
Arnold’s home business restarted in July 2014. Eventually, she got too many orders for her kitchen and needed to expand. At the time, Sweetie Pie was not two years old, so she could not take a business loan, which she especially needed to pay for kitchen equipment. The location at 150 Whitehall Rd. turned out to be a godsend coming equipped with everything she needed. The Arnolds gathered their savings and Sweetie Pie’s eastside location opened in July 2015.
Arnold is a scientist at heart, boasting a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master’s and PHD in science education, she approaches baking with an empirical angle. She adjusts recipes and tastes to suit American palates, baring results including panang curry quiche and taro purple velvet cake. Sweetie Pie’s standout dish, the Japanese cheesecake, is somehow lighter than the whipped cream that sits on top. Arnold’s Thai tea cupcakes, a recent addition, mirror the beloved beverage and evoke a hint of fall.
When Arnold’s curiosity expanded to specialty cakes, she hit the kitchen ready to experiment with a stack of cookbooks. “I never took a class,” she said. “When somebody asked me to do something, it was just like, ‘I’ve got to find out. I’ve got do some research on how to do that.” Special orders aided her studies and helped her cross thresholds. A friend asked Arnold to bake her first wedding cake, a three-tier cake complete with a fondant topper that married the couples’ interests: knitting and basketball. With specialty cakes, Arnold lets her imagination take charge: her favorite creations include a tank cake, a sea turtle cake and a buttercream cake topped with a fondant model of friend and employee Jeff Chen.
When Arnold isn’t filling orders, she bakes with her six-year-old daughter, echoing her childhood. She said she will teach her daughter more if she is eager to learn, and at the moment it appears that she is. “She loves to do the cookies,” Arnold said. “She loves to cut them out, and after she finishes, she’s like, ‘I’ve got to bring this to my teacher.’” It’s an enthusiasm for baking that now clearly runs in the family.