Sweet 16th offers baked goods and desserts to suit every taste, from cheddar cheese scones to the "Is it a brownie or is it a cookie?" (Answer: Brookie.) Located at 16th Street and Ordway Place, the bakery's layout makes for a welcoming intimate corner, with gener- ous windows streaming sun- light in on the glass cases filled with freshly baked treats like Heavenly Scones, Hello Dollies layered bars, macaroons, coffee cakes, muffins, and more.
Owners Dan and Ellen Einstein offer hugs and handshakes to regulars and friends, smiles to newcomers, and tasty treats to any- one who ventures into their bakery. It's evi- dent the couple dish out more than just pas- tries and sweets. "We love having people in here," says Dan. "It's in our blood to entertain.""When asked about the secret ingredient that makes the infamous chocolate cake so memorably delectable, Ellen grins. "You have to have a passion for what you're doing," she explains. "If you love to bake, that's going to translate into the food."
After meeting in a Chinese cooking class in Los Angeles ("It was me and one other guy in a class with 12 women, so the odds were pretty good," jokes Dan), Dan and Ellen dis- covered that they shared a common Jewish heritage that equates food with love.
They moved to Nashville in 1993. Five years ago, after Dan had spent 22 years in the music business, and Ellen's frequent catering gigs were becoming more in-demand, the Einsteins built and opened the East Nashville bakery. "We already lived here in the neighborhood and we really wanted a community gathering place," says Dan.
Dan's personal favorite and the bakery's sig- nature item, a rich chocolate cake frosted with chocolate or white cream cheese icing that he describes as "moist, chocolatey and just wonderful," comes from Ellen's family recipe.
Both of Ellen's parents survived the Holocaust and her father lived with the cou- ple before he died in 2003. Though he never lived to see the bakery open, he did encour- age the couple to pursue their dream.
"Growing up in a Jewish home, it was all about food and feeding people," says Ellen. "The best thing about baking is the joy you get from watching people's faces when they taste something."
When asked about the secret ingredient that makes the infamous chocolate cake so mem- orably delectable, Ellen grins. "You have to have a passion for what you're doing," she explains. "If you love to bake, that's going to translate into the food."
Cake, tart, and cupcake orders for birthdays and other special occasions keep Ellen busy baking her creations such as the Abstract Crunch Cake, with toffee nested in the lay- ers and a chocolate drizzle, and the Elvis Cake, a layered banana cake with peanut butter cream filling and a white cream cheese frosting.
Savory items like quiche, a breakfast sand- wich with egg, cheese, and green chilis, and lunchtime soups, sandwiches and salads are also available, as well as takeaway items like lasagna, Mom's Mac 'n Cheese, and the Gritatta, a baked grits square with pro- volone, Portobello mushrooms, green onions and sun dried tomatoes. Even canine companions can find something to nosh on at Sweet 16th, with their Zoe's Dog Treats, named for the Einsteins' neighbor's terrier.
Their offerings change often to keep things interesting and fresh, explains Dan. "We hate to get bored so we come up with new things all the time." For example, an extra vanilla cake was left from a recent order, so Ellen split the cake, spread raspberry pre- serves between the two halves, and covered the cake in chocolate ganache. Thus the Chocolate Glacier was born.
The Einsteins incorporate seasonal and local ingredients in their creations, such as local strawberries from the Nashville Farmers' Market, and they serve coffee from Nashville-based Drew's Brews. One of their consistent top-selling items, a Yazoo Stout chocolate bread pudding, includes local Yazoo Brewing Company's microbrew.
"We love that we can have contact with a growing number of farmers' markets and we like using community-based vendors," says Dan. "Most people in neighborhoods as strong as East Nashville want to know that their money is staying in the local economy."
No tip jar stands next to their cash register, as the Einsteins say they don't believe in tip- ping. However, regular customers know about the behind-the-counter "Coffee Hound"-emblazoned ceramic mug and fill it to the brim with bills and spare change. A gift from former Bongo Java roastmaster Mark Johnson, the mug is emptied when the contents reach $25 and the Einsteins cut checks to their favorite charities, such as Nashville CARES, the Martha O'Bryan Center, and others.
As the bakery operates 7:00 am to 2:00 pm Tuesday through Friday, and 8:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays, the Einsteins say their schedule misleads some customers to think they've got it made. "People will say, `Man, you have great hours,'" says Ellen. "But they don't know that our work starts at 2:30 in the morning. In the holiday seasons, some- times we'll work 40 hours straight."
"But it's worth it," adds Dan. "We're having our own party here every day."