Swoon, a bakery at 924 E. Fifth Street in historic Columbus Park, turned 14 years old last week. What started as a side gig for owner Sofia Hudson in 2007 has now gained popularity in Kansas City and beyond, delivering custom sugar cookies locally and nationwide.
“The whole thing started as an accident,” Hudson said. “I’m a furniture designer by training and I had a furniture gallery in the Crossroads. We were open for First Fridays, so my mother-in-law started making sugar cookies, and then people started coming just for the sugar cookies. When we moved closer to downtown and stopped doing First Fridays, people were so upset that they couldn’t get the cookies. We were like, ‘should we start selling them?’”
Hudson started Swoon as a home based business in October 2007, and that December the Kansas City Star put them on the front page of Star Magazine, and it snowballed from there.
Until 2015, Hudson did Swoon and her furniture company side-by-side, doing made-to-order cookies part-time.
“We focus on vanilla buttercream decorated sugar cookies and just do them to order, so via email, website,” Hudson said.
They expanded to a small bakery space on the Westside for 10 years, which Hudson described as “busting at the seams.” They encountered a few setbacks before finding their current home in Columbus Park in January 2020.
Hudson has made a home for her family in the urban core, and her business has been no different, but this time it feels permanent.
“This location, specifically, just kind of kismet-ly happened,” Hudson said. “We left the Westside and we had another space that we were moving into, and the building literally disintegrated. Between September and December of 2019 we moved four times. We found a lovely landlord on the Westside that allowed us to have some temporary space and she knew the landlord here.”
When they came to look at it, the layout was perfect, the location was great and she was excited to be so close to River Market. She also saw potential in the transformation taking place in Columbus Park.
“It seemed like a perfect place to be,” Hudson said. “We were sort of there at the beginning of the Crossroads and the beginning of the boom of the Westside, so now it’s exciting to be over here and see what happens here.”
Hudson hopes Swoon can call Columbus Park home for a really long time, especially with all the difficulties they faced in moving there.
“This space is three times the size of our last space, and we thought it was going to take a really long time to fill it up, but we’ve surprisingly filled it,” Hudson said.
Swoon will soon be joined on Fifth Street by Café Cà Phê and Tasty Unicorn, for which Hudson is thrilled. They’ve even done work with the coffee truck in the past.
“They’ve been in the neighborhood sort of looking around for a while, so we were really hopeful,” Hudson said. “We’re super excited they’re coming to the neighborhood. We’re hoping that all of these businesses will help each other out and it’ll be a destination for people.”
She and Café Cà Phê’s Jackie Nguyen have already joked about making a Vietnamese coffee ice cream sandwich.
Hudson hopes something happens with the North End, a deli at 910 E. Fifth Street that closed during the pandemic, in the near future to create some more restaurant traffic and walk-in customers.
“When we moved over to this location, it had a perfect little retail shop, so we’ve decided to add in just a little bit of retail,” Hudson said. “Right now we’re just doing Thursday through Saturday 10 to 2 and trying to figure out what the neighborhood wants and what will happen with our new neighbors, and sort of adjust from there.”
Swoon’s retail space opened in August 2021, and it’s been a little quiet, which is fine with Hudson. After doing retail in the furniture industry, she was hesitant to go back to retail, so they started building it very slowly. They’re offering drop cookies – brown butter chocolate chip, double chocolate and monster – and are hoping to add international cookies, as well.
“I’m hoping that by the time Café Cà Phê moves in and Tasty Unicorn opens that we feel like a well-oiled machine,” Hudson said.
But even if it’s been slow up front, the custom orders have been pouring in. They’ve seen a steady growth in business after the initial shutdown. Swoon has always had a lot of event business, so when those were cancelled in the first weeks of the pandemic, business dropped to zero. However, after panicking for just a minute, they took a beat and adapted to the new situation.
“Especially because people couldn’t see each other, they still had to find ways to reach out to each other and let them know that they were there for them,” Hudson said. “We did a lot of shipping during that time. Shipments for family celebrations, for drive-by baby showers, birthday parties.”
They also do a lot of corporate work, so they helped employers let their employees know they were thinking about them with care packages, sent cookies business to business, and from companies to their clients. And the growth hasn’t stopped. Last Friday, they shipped out 85 orders with destinations all over the country.
Hudson estimated 85% of what they do is completely custom, designed specifically for the client or event, but they use their social media to keep customers in the loop and provide examples to potential clients. For custom orders, the minimum is two dozen sugar cookies, and then after that clients go to an exact number.
In addition to handmade designs, Swoon can also print intricate logos or detailed pictures on edible paper that can be melted into the buttercream.
Swoon’s employees have a variety of backgrounds, but the creative work tends to attract artists.
“It’s also really physical, so a lot of people that have creative businesses of their own and they’re looking for some additional steady income,” Hudson said. “We’ve got textile designers, painters and illustrators, sculptors, we’ve had a lot of jewelry designers. It’s really wonderful, I really enjoy seeing everybody’s spin the decorations. I think it’s great when I can give them a project and they can just take it and run with it.”
Much like its neighborhood, about half of Swoon’s staff are immigrants, including Hudson herself. Though her family is from Poland, she was born in Guatemala. Other staff are German, Japanese and Slovakian.
“I love the melting pot of the old Italian area and the Vietnamese immigrants and the mix of everybody else here, so that feels really comfortable and homey to me,” Hudson said. “Columbus Park is such a gem and we’re having fun exploring all of the new areas,” Hudson said. “I’m excited to see what happens here and hope that it maintains a feel of a neighborhood, and also as a new area that attracts people to visit and businesses.”