It’s not yet 10 a.m. on a windy October Saturday. The sun is hidden behind the clouds and the scent of hot corn and hand lotion wafts through the air. Dogs of all breeds and sizes find their way to people for a pat on the head or a slap under the chin.
“I had the bourbon today. I had the cinnamon buns dipped in bourbon, ”said an enthusiastic voice at the southeast end of the Arrowhead Towne Center Farmer’s Market.
It’s Slade Grove that welcomes customers to browse its ‘goodies’ products, from leches pumpkin and spice cakes to CBD peanut butter and bacon pet treats.
Grove, 51, will tell you he’s 21 on the internet. He’s a comedic guy who turned his hobby of making really good pastries into a full-time business – Wicked City Kitchen – that has grown to include animal and body care products.
But it took a long time to spend years of hard working in the tech industry to become a successful pastry chef. Throughout this experience, he had to adapt to new spaces and realities.
Pastry is in Grove’s blood. Her great-grandmother owned a pie shop in Indiana, so he alternated between baking pies with her and helping her mom bake candy and toffees for Christmas. Grove said he’s always cooked on the side because it’s “cheaper than therapy.”
But he went to school for IT and marketing, and accepted a job with AT&T soon after graduating in 1990. But in 2000, Grove said working for AT&T and Microsoft had him. exhausted.
After quitting his computer job, his baking hobby moved closer to becoming a business when a friend persuaded Grove to work part-time at Williams-Sonoma. Grove began hosting in-store cooking demonstrations and teaching classes in the Phoenix metro area.
Grove continued to cook at his home in Peoria while working at Williams-Sonoma. One day he got a call from the Arizona Department of Health Services saying his cake was delicious, but he didn’t have a permit for his homemade baking. From there, Grove used the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant at night to cook. It lasted about six months until Grove opened its bakery and storefront in the mid-2000s.
Although its pastries gained local and national attention, Grove said the location of the brick and mortar was not appropriate for the time. It closed Wicked Bakery on Cave Creek Road almost ten years ago, and Wicked City Kitchen now sells only at farmers’ markets and for local delivery in Peoria and Glendale. Grove does his magic in a commercial kitchen in a house near his Peoria home.
The name of his business, he said, comes from his friends on the east coast who call anything good “bad.”
Grove believes the lack of a permanent storefront helped him until 2020, when many small businesses had to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses could no longer pay rent, Grove said, but Wicked City Kitchen continued their delivery service and experimented with body care products.
But the company was still struggling.
Nancy Sanders, the regional director of the Maricopa Small Business Development Center, has seen a lot of businesses like the one in Grove.
“What the pandemic has taught all businesses is that they, you know, have to be able to adapt to changing conditions,” she said.
Census data revealed that more than half of small business owners say the pandemic has had a moderate or largely negative impact on them.
With the closure of many farmer’s markets, Wicked City Kitchen had to find a new way to get the word out. The biggest problem last year was branding and reaching its customers, he said.
Former business partner, Aimee Rose, 37, of Phoenix, said it’s because “Slade is so incredibly dedicated” that Wicked City works.
“He does research you wouldn’t believe to make sure he’s selling the latest products.
But Grove said many of his items came from necessity. Wicked City Kitchen is not only known for its decadent desserts, but it also sells body care products, including muscle balms and bath bombs, infused with CBD. The making of hand lotion grew out of the baker’s need to nourish dry hands. Pet treats were born from customers who wanted something to soothe their dog’s skin or help calm anxious pets.
Grove said he took cosmetics courses to ensure the quality of his body and animal care products.
Grove credits his time to Williams-Sonoma for helping him turn his passion into a business.
“They fostered my culinary development, which I thought was, you know, amazing,” he said.
Grove has won over a dozen culinary awards and has appeared on local affiliates of Fox, NBC and ABC. He calls it the “Oprah Effect” because his red velvet cupcakes gained national attention when Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King visited his Phoenix store in 2006.
Grove’s Bourbon Pecan Pie and Sweet and Spicy Infused Caramels also won the Best of Phoenix award and were recognized by Food Network magazine.
Grove said the recognition for his food is nice, but he’s happy to continue at farmers’ markets because that’s where the people are.
For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.