RICHMOND, Ind. — When given blackberries more than a decade ago, Connie Ropp embarked on the fulfillment a dream.
That’s what she’s doing inside a downtown building as she bakes bread, cookies cupcakes and more. That’s what she’s doing as the former Olympian Candies building transforms into her bakery.
Ropp plans to open Sweet Blessings this spring at 625 E. Main St., serving baked goods, candies and lunch items such as soups, sandwiches and salads. It’s a natural progression for a business that has outgrown her expanded home kitchen and even the Richmond Farmers Market.
The farmers market is where she went all those years ago to sell some jam she made with the blackberries gifted her. She also took along a dozen mini-loaves of zucchini bread she made with zucchini from her garden, and she carried a small, square card table.
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“I made all this blackberry jam, and I was going, ‘What am I going to do? We’re not all going to eat all of this,'” Ropp said this week inside the new space where she bakes old favorites and creates new treats. “I walked up to them and I said, ‘I’m here. What do I do?’ And that’s how it started.”
Ropp and her husband, Brad, developed Sweet Blessings, baking a variety of items and experimenting with new tastes. Ropp said she now makes about 65 varieties of jams, jellies and marmalades and a like number of sweet breads.
“We love to create,” Ropp said of offerings such as strawberry-habanero and blackberry-jalapeno. “If we think of something, we get an inspiration, we’ll make it. We love to make something that nobody else has ever heard of. It’s been very popular.”
Inside the long, 16-foot-wide building squeezed between the former Elder-Beerman and Phillips Drugs, Ropp this week displayed loaves of sourdough and French breads, specially ordered birthday cupcakes and thumbprint cookies. The Ropps purchased the building in October when they knew Sweet Blessings needed to become a full bakery.
“When I started, my husband thought it was a hobby,” Ropp said. “He wasn’t quite on board for a full bakery until last year when he realized just how busy we were really getting. It was just unbelievable, the response.”
Work continues as the Ropps’ sons, Chris Hoover and Derek Hoover, remodel the first floor of the three-story building that was built in 1900 and housed Olympian Candies from the late 1950s until May 2018. They’re doing most of the work themselves after taking over an empty building. That has pushed the bakery’s opening later than anticipated.
Still, the bakery will soon be the latest addition, following Kelly’s Boutique at 724 E. Main St., to a downtown area that has survived serious losses, including cornerstone businesses such as Veach’s Toy Station, Joy Ann Cake Shop and Elder-Beerman.
“We’re excited to see what’s going on downtown,” said Ropp, who added that for a time she also thought downtown was dying. “It’s revitalizing. I noticed that when we first really started looking at the building. At first, we weren’t thinking downtown, but we looked around, we started walking the streets.”
They saw businesses they didn’t even know were open downtown and saw others thriving. Now, there are even more offerings.
“We’re all unique,” Ropp said. “It’s going to bring more people. That’s the idea of having so much in an area. Sometimes things have to go away to make room for the new, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened.
“It is a big investment, and we do believe in it.”
Ropp said there’s been excitement both within the family and among customers for Sweet Blessings’ transition from home baking to brick-and-mortar establishment. Sweet Blessings boosted its clientele from the farmers market and by filling special orders taken by phone (765-914-8387) or by Facebook message.
In addition to working on the remodeling, Brad, Chris, Derek and a Ropp daughter, Holly Wooton, will assist with the bakery, as well. All have culinary experience.
Bakery offerings will run the gamut from pies to cakes, muffins to cinnamon rolls (including vegan) and coffeecakes to danishes. Everything will be made the old-fashioned way. A couple of the recipes date to the 1800s and others to the 1920s and ’30s, Ropp said.
“I want the flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the baking powder and put it together myself,” said Ropp, who will make anything except doughnuts, which she doesn’t like to fry.
Her thumbprint cookies have been particularly popular. Ropp began selling them after Joy Ann’s closure, and she now bakes 15 varieties.
“My thumbprint cookies, apparently, are like gold,” Ropp said. “It just exploded.”
Fittingly, thumbprints, even more than the gift of some blackberries, triggered Ropp’s desire to own a bakery.
“My recipe is from when I was 10 years old,” she said. “It’s one of the first things I learned to bake. I’ve always wanted to have a bakery, I’ll be honest, ever since I was a little girl.”
Ropp began cooking with her mom, Nancy Lay, learning cookies and desserts and then making family dinners. She said she would sit on a stool to watch her mom, her aunt and her grandmother cook and bake. Later, when she was about to become a mother herself, Ropp learned from her mother how to make jam, and she became hooked on making jams and pickles, and on canning.
A junior high home economics teacher, Miss Moore, was “phenomenal and inspiring,” Ropp said. After deciding to open a brick-and-mortar Sweet Blessings, Ropp had the opportunity to tell her former teacher about the plans.
“I told her what we were doing, and she was just ecstatic,” Ropp said. “She said, ‘You never know what you inspire in the children after they leave you.’ And she said, ‘That is just fantastic that you’re taking something that I taught.’”
Because the bakery really results from customers’ appreciation expressed through their purchases at the farmers market, Ropp said Sweet Blessings will continue at the market even after opening the bakery. After all, it’s “what made us,” said Ropp, who added that they love the market’s atmosphere and the customers.
“I’m humbled, because I didn’t think my food was anything special, but apparently people love it,” Ropp said. “I cook the way my grandma did, my mom, my aunt. I do it all old-fashioned, and I guess that’s what people are wanting.”
So much so, that Ropp’s childhood dream will come true, something she realized while beginning work inside her downtown kitchen.
“My first day of baking here,” she remembered, “I just sat here for a minute and thought, Wow, it took me a long time, but by golly I did it.”
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