After barbecue business closes up shop, entrepreneur reinvents herself with Detroit Sugar
Photographs by Chris and Michelle Gerard
The idea of starting over may discourage some restaurateurs, but not Armanda Herbert. The process of reinvention inspired her to try new aspects of the food business, ultimately finding a love for baking after years in the barbecue business.
Herbert is no rookie when it comes to food. Her parents own and operate Detroit’s Vicki’s Barbecue and Shrimp. Growing up in that environment inspired Herbert to open her own barbecue grille, Ja-Da, which had a successful run in the late ’90s. But the opening of multiple casinos hurt business, forcing Ja-Da’s doors to close in 2000.
After more than a decade-long hiatus, Herbert decided to dip her toes back into the food pond, but this time, shifting from soul food to sweet treats. In 2013, she started a cake business called Detroit Sugar.
Transitioning from the savory realm to the sweet world hasn’t been easy, Herbert says. “I knew how to cook, but I didn’t know how to bake, so I had to train myself to bake. Had I known when I first started training myself just how difficult baking is, I might not have tackled it.”
After two years of refining her skills, Herbert finally understood baking’s complexity and gained the confidence to start creating recipes. To date, she has designed more than 25 original and unique recipes.
“I wanted to be different and stand out, and the only way I knew how to stand out was to create unique, gourmet desserts that haven’t been done before,” Herbert says.
Asked what inspires her creative process, Herbert can’t quite put it into words. “If I told you I hear voices, you’d say that’s crazy. So let’s just call these voices an intuition.”
With menu items such as Butter Pecan with vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar; Lemon Cloud Cake with lemon juice and lemon oil; and Carrot Cake made with pineapples and rum-soaked raisins, Herbert’s drive to be distinct has led to creative combinations. Take the Whiskey Sweet Potato Walnut cake: the batter is baked with Jack Daniel’s and fresh sweet potatoes, resulting in a moist, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s reminiscent of Grandma’s homemade sweet potato pie but with
an extra kick of nutty, whiskey goodness.
Detroit Sugar’s products can be found in the Rust Belt Market and Western Market, both in Ferndale. Herbert hopes to expand her business to include multiple stores around metro Detroit, but is going to take it slow.
“A small startup is enough to be dangerous,” she says. “There are obstacles that you don’t anticipate, so I am trying to grow my business carefully.”
For more information, visit detroitsugar.com or call 248-390-8960.