Local confectioner perfects her craft as she creates sweet treats in Downtown Bay City

She spent years making chocolates for family, then went to work for The Village Chocolatier. Now, Sarah Pennell owns Sarah’s Sweet Escapes at 811 Saginaw St. in Downtown Bay City.

Sarah Pennell opened her shop after honing her skills at an established chocolate shop and by preparing treats for her family.After spending about 15 years in the healthcare industry, Pennell took a part-time job working at the chocolate shop. About four and a half years later, that part-time gig turned permanent when she bought the business in June.

The Village Chocolatier also had a store in East Tawas, Pennell says, and they opened the shop in Bay City as an extension of the business. While the East Tawas store stayed pretty busy, the Bay City location hit a lull.

Despite the slowdown, Pennell says she decided to buy the business because she sees tremendous potential here.

“I see the growth opportunity in Downtown Bay City,” Pennell says. “With the streets being closed this year, I had a lot of foot traffic. It was very nice to see all the live music out there. So they had a lot of things going on down here to kind of bring people downtown.”

Before she started working at the chocolate shop, Pennell stayed at home raising her kids. There, she perfected her craft.

“I loved making candy at home through the years raising my kids and, what better way to put your kitchen skills to use than to work with candy and chocolate? And, you know, that’s really what it was in the beginning ­– a hobby.”

It was also a way to experiment when the kids wanted something special.

“When I would go places we would maybe go into a chocolate shop and buy something small. But there was always something that my kids were like, ‘I really wanted that and I didn't get it,’ and I'd be like, ‘Well, let's see if we can't re-create it.’ So, really, I just taught myself.”

She says she also learned from her mother and by making treats for extended family.

“It’s been not just my own kids through the years. My sister’s got a couple of sons. Even my nephew, he bought me a chocolate-melter for Christmas.”

She says she still chokes up thinking about how her hobby turned into a family affair.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when business slowed at the Bay City location, Pennell says she used the time to perfect her craft.

“I feel like that probably one of the harder parts of working with chocolate is actually putting them inside of a mold and having them come out and be nice and shiny and crystal. It’s like a piece of art.”

She says it doesn’t matter what the shape is or what goes into it, each novelty item is her favorite to work on.

Not only does she create molded gourmet chocolates, Pennell says she does a lot of dipped fresh fruit. This time of year, caramel apples are popular.

“I dip a majority of everything by hand myself in the store,” she says. “And the stuff I can’t dip or make here, I get from the Village Chocolatier up in East Tawas. Although they closed their store here, we’re still kind of connected a little bit.”

Sarah’s Sweet Escapes is open Tuesdays through Sundays. As fall blows into Downtown Bay City, Pennell looks forward to creating all kinds of specialty items. 
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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.