When Ebony Turner was growing up, her favorite activity was baking.
"I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother," she said. "I've always been the baker in the family, and I've always loved it."
When Turner got to college, her initial studies focused on nursing, but those academic pursuits didn't last long.
"I had a change of heart," she said. "Instead, I thought, 'It seems like I would be happier if I went into the culinary arts.' "
She was — especially after her coursework turned to baking and cake decorating — and a cherished pastime evolved into a career. Turner started with a custom-cake operation out of her home kitchen, but by 2019 she had ramped up to a much roomier facility in a south Minneapolis church.
The connections she made there led to a catering job for a housing shelter. That 14-month gig, which ended a few weeks ago, kept her busy during the pandemic and allowed her to earn enough capital to jump-start her dream: a retail sweets shop that she's dubbed Dessertopia (20 W. 66th St., Richfield, dessertopia2021.com).
Leasing a storefront in the venerable Hub shopping center seemed preordained. Last year, Turner was running errands at the 67-year-old Richfield landmark when she spied a sign in a window that said, "This space is yours."
"And I thought, 'You're right, it's all mine,' " she said. "I'm really determined. There was a phone number on the sign, and I saved it in my phone under 'My New Store.' "
She eventually made it happen, signing a lease in March and devoting the next nine weeks to converting a grimy former Little Caesars franchise ("It was a complete horror story," she said) into her sparkling new brick-and-mortar enterprise.
The first customers walked through the doors on May 22, and Turner has already developed an enthusiastic clientele, proof once again that good bakeries make good neighbors.
"The response from the community has been overwhelming and humbling, to say the least," she said. "The enormous positive response has been just amazing. We've been ramping up production, and hiring more hands, to try to keep up with the demand."
The ever-expanding menu is anchored by cupcakes: chocolate cupcakes filled with caramel sauce and topped with whipped cream frosting and crushed Heath bars, vanilla cupcakes filled with cream cheese and strawberries and finished with vanilla buttercream icing, carrot cake filled with cream cheese and candied carrots and topped with cream cheese frosting and a drizzle of honey.
There are cinnamon rolls infused with maple and bacon, sticky pecan-caramel rolls, mini Bundt cakes and pretty single-serving cakes served in cups; think cake jars, minus the glass containers. Cannolis, too: peaches-and-cream, bananas Foster, caramel apple.
"They put you in mind of peach cobbler, banana pudding and apple pie," said Turner. "I'm doing different items that you won't see elsewhere."
Next up is ice cream, and Turner is continuing to produce the custom-order cakes that started her business.
The Dessertopia name is a nod to "The Giver," a favorite book.
"It's about a utopia, a perfect world," said Turner. "I like to play with words, and make them fun and whimsical. Pairing 'utopia' with 'dessert' seems perfect for a one-stop shop for your perfect dessert."
Dessertopia is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.