Forging ahead with equal amounts of passion and talent, Danetra Richardson brings sugary goodness to downtown Summerville.
In sweeping font on an interior wall at Swank Desserts in Downtown Summerville, a message encourages visitors to “indulge your sweet!”If you’re close enough to read the sign, you don’t have a fighting chance to disobey it; surrounded by the aroma of freshly-baked goods and the sights of delectable treats, there’s little that can be done to resist the pull of one of Danetra Richardson’s homemade creations. Though Richardson moved into her space less than a year ago, in November of 2019, it seems a natural fit for the baker, and locals have already become regulars at the shop, favoring specialties and enjoying the pleasure of Richardson’s company.
Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Danetra Richardson always knew she wanted to cook, but never saw making a living as a baker in her future. In truth, she admits she initially hated baking, even when she took a baking pastry class at Johnson and Wales University, where she obtained a degree in Culinary Arts. An internship at Magnolias restaurant during her college years made her fall in love with Charleston, and upon graduating, she headed south again, this time to join the Magnolias staff full time. She enrolled at the College of Charleston to pursue a Hospitality and Tourism Management degree, and it was during her studies that she was required to create a business plan based on a need in her community. Looking around, she realized the Lowcountry was low on specialty dessert shops, and began to develop a business plan built around the concept. As she wrote down ideas, shadowed pastry chefs, and educated herself on running a bakery, her excitement for the idea grew. Later, while working in the kitchen at the Ocean Course Clubhouse on Kiawah Island, she had the opportunity to play around with recipes, using trial and error to develop her culinary voice.
“Once I started understanding the science behind baking, behind all of it, it just clicked, and I loved it,” recalls Richardson. “Before I knew it, I was a pastry chef!”
Richardson founded Swank Desserts in 2015, primarily selling through her website while baking out of a commissary kitchen. For years, she kept her eyes and her heart open to a brick and mortar location to house her operation, and finally, in 2019, she found it: a sweet little shop in Summerville’s historic district, already set up as a bakery by the previous tenant. Acting on faith, she created a kickstarter to help her raise the money to acquire the space, and wonderfully, the community responded. 321 donors gave $23,901 through the crowdfunding campaign, a testament to the relationships, connections, and community spirit the culinary creative had developed up to that point in her life. After a brief renovation, Richardson and her four employees opened the doors to Swank Desserts, ready to welcome any and all “dessert enthusiasts,” as Richardson affectionately calls her customers.
Richardson likes to be creative with her desserts, offering tried-and-true classics alongside unique, one-of-a-kind creations. With a menu that changes with the seasons and the inspirations of the baker, desserts at Swank can include such treats as lemon meringue bars, Nutella cookies, brown butter blondies, Mexican chocolate cookie sandwiches, brownies, cinnamon rolls, and chocolate chip cookies. On Fridays, donuts are the star, often coming in unique flavors like Crème brûlée, margarita, and s’mores. Richardson often offers savory options, including chorizo and potato hand pies and biscuits with pimento cheese, eggs, and sausage. In place of cupcakes, Richardson crafts four-inch layered personal cakes, the trimmings of which she packages separately into “cake snacks,” a sort of grab-and-go mixture of cake leftovers and frosting that is a hit among her customers. And, of course, she sells her famous macarons: crispy and chewy at the same time, the classic desserts, which package beautifully, have quickly become a go-to gift among Summerville residents. Even more popular are her custom cakes, ordered by fans of her work for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and other occasions, each customized to the specifications of the individual, every one of them somehow more beautiful than the last.
Eventually, Richardson would like to sell wine, encouraging customers to wind down at the end of the day with a sweet pairing. She also entertains the idea of offering baking classes to the community. For now, she stays the course, focusing on settling into her new digs on Cedar Street, getting to know the locals, and chasing inspiration wherever it strikes. Working hard, often from 7am to 9pm, the baker is relentless in pursuit of her dream, bringing people together and making people happier with her delicious creations. Thanks to Danetra Richardson, Summerville is now a whole lot sweeter. AM