Melissa Murphy’s captures the charm of all those influences and tops it with a dollop of the tastiest, fluffiest buttercream you’re ever come across. And it all started at her now-flagship outlet of Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Court Street in one of Brooklyn’s quaintest brownstone neighborhoods.
As Ed Levine, revered foodie and keeper of Serious Eats Web site, put it: “it takes guts to open a bakery in Carroll Gardens and not sell cannolis.”
Murphy, a New York native, decided early on that she wanted to pursue something in the food business. She went to New York’s French Culinary Institute with the goal of rounding out her professional experience, where she found her talent for sweets.
“They [FCI] didn’t have a specific pastry program at the time,” recalled Murphy. “I was working in the front of the house and never worked in the kitchen. I went to become well-rounded, but I ended up loving it so much that I stayed in the kitchen.”
After stints at numerous fine restaurants throughout New York City and the Hamptons, Murphy opened Sweet Melissa Patisserie in 1998. It quickly developed a close-knit following and became a local favorite.
The area made sense to Murphy, with a small movie house across the street and the fact that she had just moved nearby.
“It was very family oriented and there were a lot of young families,” she said. “It’s becoming a part of people’s lives in a family level … I wanted to establish myself in a place where children could grow up with Sweet Melissa.”
She recently did the cake for a 6th birthday party. She also happened to do that same child’s first birthday cake, as well as for the mom’s bridal shower, and her wedding baby shower.
Confidence and luck
Clearly, her desserts are connecting with people. Murphy said that what makes her desserts and pastries special is that they are “treats we all know and love with a fresh spin that make them more delicious than ever before.” Some of her creations, such as the butterscotch pudding and her Double Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies have indeed reached near-cult status in New York.
“I had confidence, which is why I did it,” she said. “But I think anybody would have to say that the restaurant business is a risky one and there’s a lot of luck involved. You have to back that luck up with a good product.”
Harnessing that buzz, Murphy has been stepping outside the kitchen and into the lucrative arena of growing as a brand. Frank about her goal to get her own TV show, she has already gotten plenty of practice. She took home the grand prize in the “TV Food Network Challenge: Edible Ornaments,” which aired last December.
“If that’s your goal, there are steps that need to take place,” she said. “You need to establish yourself, and you usually have to establish a second store to validate the first store and then a cookbook becomes your calling card for different types of media outlets.”
The savvy entrepreneur had reason to celebrate then, when in March of this year, Penguin published her first book, “The Sweet Melissa Baking Book,” which has helped to cement her name in the psyche of a growing legion of foodies.
“The book has gotten a tremendous response,” Murphy said. “I really just wanted to have all my recipes in one place!”
Expanding to make more room for all her projects, Murphy opened that second location in 2006 in Park Slope. The neighborhood, known for its families, embraced Murphy and her homemade ethos and has been as successful as the first.
And perhaps coming full circle, she recently opened the doors of Sweet Melissa Cr