in November of 2004, GeoClan.com stepped into the bakery called Sugar Hill
amid the wonderful smells of chocolate
chip cookies and cranberry scones. The
owner and head baker, Kameelah Mu'Min
was gracious enough to talk to us despite
the fact she had orders to make. She gave us the inside dish (pun intended)
on his love for baking, her business and
what it takes to do both. Oh, the sweets
I have sampled is absolutely banging!
How long has the Sugar Hill Bakery been
Hill: I started baking out the
house in 2001-2002 and I have been baking
since I was twelve and I always had the
mind to have my own bakery but I thought
it was something I would do when I retired.
What I realized that even though I graduated
from Penn and I got my bachelors and masters
I wanted to know what would keep me motivated
for a long time. So I did psychology,
women's studies, black studies and those
are academic things that I love but I
realize that I wasn't a good employee
because I always had my own ideas and
wanted to be independent and do something
where if the clock alarm goes off in the
morning I wouldn't be like oh, man I have
to get up.
also came out of tragedy because of I
had a miscarriage and that made me think
of everything more and reevaluate what
I wanted to do. And just going
through that grief process I just wanted
to bake something so it got to the point
where I was bring stuff to work and my
husband was bringing stuff to work and
people were like why don't you sell you
cakes and that idea started to be a possibility
and we had two cake parties with a sampling
of 20 different cakes and we invited about
50 people and the people loved it. So
if there is a demand for it and the kind
of dessert I do then why not pursue it.
I mean what's the most I can lose. If
I never tried or said now isn't the time
it would never happen. People always say
there is never a right time. The time
is when you decide you want to do something
and I had to decide whether this was something
I was dedicated and passionate about because
a lot of people have passions but not
enough to commit time, energy and capital
into something that will be viable.
wanted to sit down and analyze what I
wanted to do and where and also talk to
my husband and make sure he was supportive
of the endeavor because this was a dream
of mine. It just so happened that the
second cake party we through at the house
I was pregnant and we didn't know it so
I felt since I had made a decision and
said this is something I want to do now
and not wait for retirement I think that
created a catalyst for a lot of things.
We thought about doing a business plan,
we thought about doing wholesaling to
coffee shops and that's how we got started.
Our first client in this area was Green
Line CafZ and the second was Pizaro's
gourmet coffee in center city and that
was on some just going there and asking
them if they would like to try some desserts.
So business has been going on for?
We have been open here in March of 2004
and the location is 4908 Baltimore Ave.
so all time before I had basically converted
our home in West Philly into a kitchen
and we got to a certain point where were
like we are going to take this seriously
we are going to have to make another step.
We also have the website www.sweetsugarhill.com
So where did the name Sugar Hill come
The name actually came from the first
cake party we threw and it was called
Sugar Hill: Have you cake and eat it too!
Someone later came up to me and said why
don't you think of that as the name of
your shop. I got the name sugar
hill from a Langston Hughes poem talking
about Harlem called "Harlem Sweeties".
And in the poem Langston is saying: "
have you dug the spill, of Sugar Hill"
and really the poem is about him and celebrating
black women and the different shades,
colors, bodies and personalities of these
women and in one of the final lines he
says: "stroll down fine delicious Sugar
Hill" and I thought it was perfect for
the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create
so the name stuck. We did an informal
poll and everyone loved it. The name has
connection to New York where I'm from
and it's a favorite poem of mind so it
You said you are from New York what part
are you from? And you said you went to
Penn how did you get down here and how
long have you been here?
I'm actually from Brownsville, Brooklyn.
I moved to Philly in 1996 to attend the
University Of Pennsylvania and after a
undergrad degree in psychology I did my
masters in psychology and education and
from there it wasn't a decision but I
felt Philly had potential to be a long
term stop. At first I didn't like
it but I felt it was a place for me to
grow. Even thinking about raising a family
I didn't think New York was someplace
I wanted to do that in and I also thought
in New York could I realistically own
my own home and business at 25? People
are surprised that I'm educated and have
what I have but hindsight is 20/20 so
every step I took was to get here led
me here I feel. I mean going to
Penn getting in outrageous student loan
debt It still lead me to where I'm supposed
to be. So worse comes to worse yeah I
can get a job but this is what I love
to do and I feel it would be a disservice
to myself to let it go.
So it is always good to have a backup
So right now it's just you or you and
Right now it's me, my husband and my youngest
brother, who came down from New York about
a year and a half ago. At first my brother
saw me staying up at night and he was
saying how you doing all this, you are
mixing, baking washing the dishes, everything. You do what you have to do it's
about the bigger picture I'm not the only
person. I don't have the luxury
of slacking off because this is me and
us. You realize how much sacrifice
it takes. It's a misconception
that you set your own hours because I
still have to get up and bake when I'm
tired but it's a different kind of pressure
because I'm doing something I created
for myself. Our customers are our bosses
we still have people we have to answer
to and it's hard to regulate your own
You have been baking since you were twelve.
Where did that love of baking come from?
I tell people it's a God given talent
because my mother didn't do it although
she did encourage it. My mother's
a seamstress and she taught us how to
sew and crochet and my grandmother was
artist also I think was an extension of
What kind of ingredients do you use?
We use all sweet butter, no artificial
ingredients, and flour, sugar, eggs so
you know how labor intensive it is.
So tell us about the location?
It's an old barbershop and when we first
came to see it was a mess. There was clothes,
food, and trash in the building and on
the floors so that when we really needed
vision. We gutted the entire place and
essentially worked from a shell. I was
able to design the type of kitchen I wanted
and with the help of an architect from
the University City District I had a little
rough sketch of what I wanted the layout
to be. They helped me fine tune what I
So In the storefront you have a sitting
area and an antique picture collection.
My pride and joy is my cakewalk collection.
Cakewalking is a dance that originated
in the south as a way of slaves mocking
their masters' mannerisms with the style
of dress and looking dignified and some
of the pictures are offensive but they
are over 100 years old and fit the times. It involves the subversive mockery
of slave masters and turned into something
they used to see the slaves doing and
on a Sunday a master would say the best
couple to perform would win a cake so
it became a cakewalk.
the 1890's it crossed over so it became
a two-step march and the music changed
because it was geared to the white audience.
It has an interesting history and that's
where you get the term "that takes the
cake" so I thought it was an interesting
piece to have in the store. And we have
gotten different reactions from people.
Some are fascinated others may be slightly
offended but this is history. It's African
American history, dance history, social
history so you can't hide the treatment
of black people even if it's embarrassing
to some who'd rather forget. If
you hide or destroy our artifacts and
memorabilia you are destroying our history.
Give a summary of what you have in your
We have a three door freezer and refrigerator,
three bin sink, six burner range oven,
double deck convection oven, baker's rack,
stainless steel table, shelving. We had to pass health regulations for
having a prep sink, a hand wash sink a
three sink and in the back having a mop
sink, more storage, a 20 and 30-quart
You had to get licensed?
Yeah we had to get a business license,
a health license, and even a license to
sell coffee in the district.
Did you self finance?
We used our home and everything we owned
as collateral. And that goes to how much
you want to risk and the rewards.
We got a small business loan approved
and the government subsidizes it.
We had to put up everything plus $10,000
to do this so you got to be serious.
This is no spur of moment thing. There are a lot of things that will test
your commitment to your project and make
So the University City District has been
Yeah I think there is a mixed perception
but again seeing the overall picture if
The goal is to make this Baltimore Avenue
a commercial corridor to have people shopping
in their neighborhood and to really improve
the level of service I think my plan fits
within their goals and the technical assistance
and help they provided was invaluable.
Again it's about having the information
and knowing the right questions to ask.
your had high expec5tations about moving
to Baltimore Ave.
Yeah, we don't regret it but we realize
that it's going to take longer for the
revitalization to occur. And the kind
of product we have isn't easy to make
nor cheap on time so there is no 15 cookies
for a dollar. You have to educate the
consumer by telling them "I'm cracking
eggs, using great products it going to
be worth more than the corner store items.
I'm not getting our products out of the
box and we are particular in what we do
and how we do it including the store.
don't have a counter with a big glass
shield in front of the customer because
it creates this aura of "I'm on this side,
you're on that side and we don't want
that in our store. This is our
family business and we are inviting you
as a customer to be a part of our family.
We going to keep our home clean we are
going to smile, we are going to do everything
we would if you were our friend and I
think it creates atmosphere.
ask me questions like why do you set the
shop up like this and I say because I
think these are the shops we used to see.
Maybe it was before desegregation but
there used to be black businesses that were vital to the community.
Not that I think desegregation is a bad
thing but I think many black people have
come to expect that we are going to get
a half assed product just because we are
trying to support other blacks doing business
when we can deserve the best product,
reasonable prices, clean place and be
You live in the neighborhood and work
there too. Tell us why.
Me and my husband love the neighborhood
from our days at Penn and we think it
had the diversity to make this work. We decided that the location here would
fulfill the need here for more positive
businesses especially for black and minorities.
Do you have bigger dreams for this?
I really think skies the limit. I think this as an old fashion shop like
a candy and ice
store and a maybe a cafZ with more prefaces
on the coffee. I think the brand is really
marketable and I love the product we are
So we will hopefully see a Sugar Hill
Bakery in North Philly then?
No doubt! It encourages people to be more
diverse. We have too demand that we have
a diversity of products and services especially
when considering the fact that we are
the largest consumer in the country! We
don't need to be overcharged or treated
like crap. We need to respect ourselves
more and we love the fact that we do get
to know our customers better because we
see them on the streets.
What are some of your favorites and how
about the customer's favorites?
I guess one of my favorite cakes is the
Red Velvet and also the Pineapple Coconut
cake. That's the cake I enjoy making because
the theme of the bakery is old fashion
southern desserts that are nostalgic and
I had a customer who said she had to come
back because that cake reminded her of
her grandmother and for me that's the
highest complement. The desserts we make
should make you remember times when your
grandmother or mom made cookies, pies
or cakes after school or for Sunday dinner.
As for the customer's favorites: Red Velvet
is one and Sweet Potato Cheesecake is
another. We like to do things with
So right now you guys are doing wholesale
to coffee shops and stores?
Yes we have a few stores like Green Line
which is local, Latte Lounge 816 north
4 th street in Northern Liberties, 22
Gallery CafZ on 236 south 22 nd street.
Copper Crossing on 45th and chestnut and
slowly we are getting restaurant Cresheim
Cottage CafZ on 7402 Germantown Ave. Abracicco
on 1816 south 47 th Street, Day by Day
catering on 21st and Samson, RX on 45th
and Spruce, the Pisaros location downtown
in Suburban Station and we are slowly
expanding. We also do retail Friday
and Saturday but we take orders all week
so I have someone picking up a cake and
we aren't open technically. We
want to drum up business especially during
the holidays and we haven't been open
a year so we are still seeing which times
are better than others and how we can
be more time and cost efficient.
Where do you get the recipes?
All the recipes are mine and I'm still
a brainiac so if I want to make something
I will research and experiment looking
for what tastes good and what flavor and
look I want. It's really about experimentation.
GC: So what products do you sell?
We do pound cakes, scones, quick bread,
cookies, coffee cakes, brownies pretty
much what I feel like making. I have that
luxury as long as people enjoy it. I don't
do breads like yeast, whole wheat, and
white. I'm not saying we won't do it.
Who knows maybe my daughter will decide
to do a Sugar Hill Bread Bakery in the
Your husband is very supportive how did
We met at UPENN my freshman year. My roommate
was his best friends girlfriend and we
went from there we got married the summer
after my sophomore year so we have been
married for 6 years.
And you're only 26!
Yeah I definitely can say I'm grown.
and you're expecting your second child?
Yes! We have a 21 month old who is a fixture
here at the bakery because when we were
planning and opening the store she was
here so customers ask for her and that's
How long does it take to complete an order?
Because I make things from scratch and
I don't hold things in the refrigerator,
we ask for 48 hours notice but from start
to finish if it was a cake it would probably
take an hour. We are very conscious about
the product we have and I wouldn't want
someone to comment about not liking the
cake or something was dry so we take our
Give us the best and worst part of owning
your own business.
The best part is this place was a dream
in my mind, something I made a reality. It's very difficult I wouldn't
want to fool anyone but it's rewarding
because I'm doing something I love and
how many people can say that. I'm
grateful and blessed. The worst
part is always keeping in mind the vision
and goals of the business. Day to day
it can get very frustrating, very boring
and tiring but when you are your own boss
you cannot do the same things you did.
Sick day's are at a true premium because
if I don't move for me who else would?
It's hard to be a leader.
Yeah, you have to keep yourself motivated
and keep people around you who will do
the same! We must continue to think of
the bigger picture and that is having
a business for my daughter to run and
that even if she doesn't want to bake.
This is something her parents did from
scratch and I enjoy. Especially
coming from the experience of being African
Americans this is something we need to
appreciate and see more often.
What do you think about uploading and
I think it has to start with something
very specific to the person so it grows
on a personal level. For me it has to
be real. It's not just about baking it's
about the big picture which is the business
and it can do for families (including
mine) and for the communities they are
a part of. To me it's about being
and thinking bigger than you.