Bakeshop offers sweet treats at Drag Mall

Michael Rees at The Cherry on Top bakeshop at the Drag Mall, Frederick Street, Port of Spain. - AYANNA KINSALE
Michael Rees at The Cherry on Top bakeshop at the Drag Mall, Frederick Street, Port of Spain. - AYANNA KINSALE

It’s like nothing anyone has ever seen at the Drag Mall on Frederick Street, Port of Spain: a festive-looking confectionery store which sells baked gourmet delicacies.

The Cherry on Top Bakeshop itself looks like confectionery, with its white and cherry-red colour scheme and brightly lit displays. The bakeshop, managing director Michael Rees said, attracts all sorts of people who simply want to see what the store is about.

When the bakeshop opened in July, Rees and his son, Matthew Gonzalez, hoped to use the family business not only to bring a splash of colour to the usually monotone street mall but to provide affordable gourmet treats to the people of Port of Spain

But crime and the rising costs of production have left a bitter after-taste to the shop – raising concerns over security and affecting its business module. However, despite the challenges, the family is continuing towards its ultimate goal of turning their love for sweet treats into a business.

A sweet oasis

Rees, a retired pilot, and his family came up with the name “Cherry on Top,” because where confectioneries are concerned, the cherry is what completes most delectable desserts.

Rees said the bright colours are an eye-catching element that draws people in, but what makes people come back is the quality and taste of their treats.

“Some people come in. Some, of course, purchase,” he said. “Others just come by and take a look and they promise to come back. But what I have found is that anyone who had come in and bought has come back.”

Gourmet cupcakes at affordable prices are among the delicacies The Cherry on Top Bakeshop offers customers. - AYANNA KINSALE

Rees speaks to his customers and gets feedback from them on their variety of goodies, which include gourmet cupcakes, light fluffy patisseries, delicious, moist cakes and an assortment of pies, sausage rolls and other pastries.

“We get a lot of repeat customers,” he said. “So we are building a little family around the business.”

Rees said his neighbours at the Drag Mall have also been surprised and attracted to the motif of the store. He added that he has received a lot of support from them as well.

“My neighbours show me nothing but love. They have given me a lot of positive feedback and encouragement,” he said.

Rees explained that he manages the bakeshop, but it is his wife, who did not want to be named, and Gonzales who bake the pastries. He added that some of their items are outsourced from local bakers and others in cottage industries.

But the icing on the cakeis the prices. Rees said part of the business model is to provide quality desserts at affordable prices. The target customer is the person who may not have  much money, but still would like a sweet treat to take home after a hard day at work.

The prices also match the sweet motifs, with gourmet cupcakes for $25, and double chocolate cakes for $20.

Cherry cheescake on sale at The Cherry on Top Bakeshop. - AYANNA KINSALE

“We want to make this into a sweet oasis in Port of Spain,” he said. “Where people could walk in and feel as though they are not in the heart of town. It is small, but they will see madeleines and all different sorts of sweets at a price they could afford.”

A sour situation

While the family has received good feedback and encouragement from customers and fellow businesspeople in the mall, crime has left Rees and his family concerned.

In the four months the bakeshop has been open it has already been affected by crime. In one incident a family entered and a young woman had her bracelet snatched by two men who ran into the shop, then ran off.

There have also been fights that broke out nearby. But the most concerning to Rees and his family is that someone was shot dead on the other side of the mall.

Anton Smart was on Henry Street when a gunman walked up and shot him dead. Police on patrol on Charlotte Street saw the gunman running with a firearm and tried to stop him but he kept running.

The suspect, Shakeem Griffith, was eventually detained and charged with Smart’s murder. He was due to appear before a Port of Spain magistrate on Monday.

Rees said the incident was “disconcerting,” but hopes that staying humble and keeping to himself would help with the business.

“I don’t feel in fear for my life, but the area, as everybody knows, is a high-risk area,” he said. “You could always be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Cupcakes at The Cherry on Top Bakeshop. Decorations and accessories are among some items imported for use in baking. - AYANNA KINSALE

The family business, like all other small businesses around the world, is also faced with the challenges arising out of the volatility of imported goods because of rising prices globally.

While they try to use as many local sources as possible to keep costs down, they still import some accessories, such as cupcake cups and decorations.

The high raw-materials costs make it a challenge to provide affordable, quality desserts, but Rees is accustomed to looking at the bigger picture, and believes he and his family have a good product that will be resilient against the volatile prices.

The icing on the cake

Despite the challenges, Rees said they plan either to open another shop in another area, or expand the shop on Frederick Street.

“We are trying to put our product out there to the public. We try our best. There aren’t many places like ours. This is a unique little store. Some people come in and they mistake it for a French cafe. Others came in and advised that we should put a couple chairs in a corner so people could sit. I tell them maybe.”

With Christmas and Carnival around the corner, he hopes to get even more foot traffic and attention. The products are promoted online on Instagram (cherryontop_cw) and Facebook, where the family offers catering services that can be ordered and delivered.

Rees said the goal is to broaden the customer base to the point where production costs do not eat up earnings.

“We are building the brand here, but we are hoping to open somewhere else. We may even expand here so that some people could come in, sit down and have something sweet and a cup of tea.”


"Bakeshop offers sweet treats at Drag Mall"

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