August 19, 2015
These aren't your mother's desserts, but they sure do taste like them.
Betty Halpenny, 32, and Elly Koenig, 28, quietly opened Ramona Susan's Bake Shop late last month at 1255 Marlborough St. in Fishtown as a destination for today's moms -- the ones who long for their mother's made-with-love desserts and might want their kids to have that experience, but just don't have the time.
"We came up with this retro feel that we want to keep going. This sort of – I don’t want to say housewife, necessarily, but a kind of stay-at-home-mom style that so many people can’t do anymore," Koenig told PhillyVoice. "We appreciate and love that kind of style. We want to bring that to our customers."
The duo, who have both previously worked at the Reading Terminal Market Flying Monkey Bakery (Halpenny, meanwhile, has a side gig baking at Fourth and Cross), started Ramona Susan's with the intention of going back to basics. Halpenny said they won't be doing any "eighteen-component" recipes. Instead, they're whipping up reliable sweets that so many people grew up on and seldom see perfected anymore: brownies, cupcakes, cookies and puddings.
“I think people lost sight of [what makes baked goods delicious]," Koenig said. "They kept adding things and adding things and you get to a point where you can’t add anything more, so you just have to take it away and start back at the beginning.”
A Ramona Susan's 'classic': Chocolate-chip cookies with M&M's, made to have a salty after -taste. The bake shop will soon start offering vegan and gluten-free baked goods, including a vegan sugar cookie made with applesauce. (Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice)
In that sense, their menu's not plain; it's classic.
“We’re classic-American," Halpenny told PhillyVoice. "We look through the lens of 'supermarket, but quality.’ Everything we do is very accessible and familiar, but so much better than what you would get at a supermarket. We feel like our generation grew up on that style of baked goods."
In addition to those classics, their opening menu also consists of a "unicorn cake" -- a pastel-rainbow-colored, yellow layer cake with pink strawberry buttercream that's come to influence their branding. They're also planning seasonal baked goods for the fall, including a pumpkin cupcake recipe that Halpenny borrowed from her mother -- and the shop's namesake -- Ramona Susan.
From left to right: Elly Koenig, 'Frank the Unicorn' and Betty Halpenny. The unicorn head, purchased at Scout Salvage, keeps them company while they bake. (Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice)
"Growing up, my mother made baked goods all the time. We always had dessert," Halpenny said, explaining her mother's influence on their bake-shop operation. "She has a warm, food-oriented element to her. And I love that."
Her mother, she said, characterizes what the two of them want to emphasize with their business: simple-but-delicious baked goods and a friendly attitude.
“We’re easy to get along with and friendly.We think that customer service sometimes takes a backseat, and that’s not OK," Koenig said. "You can make a quality product, but if nobody wants to talk to you, they don’t want to buy it."
Proving as much, Halpenny and Koenig opened their shop in late July with a community tasting event for neighbors. And though they don't have seating space (yet), they encourage customers to come in and get to know them.
Freshly made baked goods at Ramona Susan's Bake Shop in Fishtown. (Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice)
"Come in, look around and tell us about your granddaughter's communion. Come say hi!" Koenig said. "We think that's really important."
For now, you can catch Halpenny and Koenig at their 500-square-foot bakery space Thursday through Friday, 5-9 p.m.; Saturdays from 5-10 p.m.; and Sundays from 1-8 p.m. They plan to extend their hours in October but said that customers can order for delivery anywhere in the city and at just about any time -- provided they give 48 hours notice. To boot, the shop is currently exploring a wholesale option.
They hope to be present at the final Night Market event of the season, located at Girard and Frankford avenues on Oct. 1. Regardless, they'll be hosting a second community tasting event when they update their menu for the fall season.