Chicago Black-owned bakery makes history with nationwide success

A history-making expansion is in the works in the heart of Chicago’s South Side.

A popular business frequented by presidents and other famous faces has reached a brand-new milestone. In a FOX 32 Special Report, Tia Ewing spoke with the founder about her legacy and her message to other aspiring entrepreneurs.

Brown Sugar, the song performed by the Rolling Stones, talked about slavery, and for some, it left a bitter taste in their mouth. But for Stephanie Hart, the song came out at a time where she didn't always feel seen.

"In the late 70s, being Black in the western suburbs, I used it to kind of battle racism," Hart said. "I would say ‘Oh, you know me more than you think you do cause you sing about me all the time. Whenever you’re singing Brown Sugar, you’re singing about me.’ So I kind of used it." 

That song would go on to inspire a sweet idea – Brown Sugar Bakery, located in the Park Manor neighborhood. 

Hart spent 20 years in the tech industry. In 2000, she wanted a cake her late grandmother used to make, but she couldn't find anything like it. So she went into the kitchen.

"You know I really worked hard until it made me feel like my grandmother baked that cake," she said.

In 2002, that's when the single mom decided to take the plunge and open. Over just two days this year, the bakery sold 4,000 cakes.

"The Carmel cake is probably 70% of my business. Now don’t be sleeping on my other desserts. But the Carmel cake I think is 70% of my business because Carmel is rocket science. To make a good Carmel is rocket science. It is so tricky and so technical.

The path to success hasn't always been easy.

"I made my first walk-in cooler with Styrofoam, plastic and an air conditioner. And I’ve never told anyone that because it’s kind of embarrassing," Hart said.

But Hart said she quickly learned how to sift through the challenges.

"I stayed focused on the product long enough for good things to happen," Hart said.

And really good things are happening. Hart is now in the history books, opening her own factory four months ago.

"And so we are – currently I am – the only Black female manufacturer of chocolate in America. And I’m proud of that, but I hope, beyond that, to see other chocolatiers turn into manufacturing companies so that their products can go further and have a further reach," Hart said.

Hart said she now gets cake requests from across the country and around the world, making her own inside her factory.

"It always just astounds me, and I’m totally humbled how far people come for the cake. I’m so honored that the cake makes people feel like home. It obviously does for them what it did for me," Hart said.

Next up, she wants to help grow cocoa for her products in Ghana and bring it to the U.S. to make her desserts.

"And we will be the first in history to take cocoa from Africa where it’s all from anyway, and bring it here. And the whole line is Black," she said.

Hart hopes her story that’s been sometimes bitter but mostly sweet, will inspire others.

"My message would be that you don’t have to see the positive for it to come. You’ve got to become solution-oriented, and you just can’t think about how hard it is. One day you’ll look back and go ‘Dang, I did that. That was crazy,’" she said.