In case you are new around here, a few weeks ago I announced that I’d be gifting photo shoots to small businesses in need. My friend Arturo nominated one of his favorite small businesses, Sweet Arielle Bakery. I had not yet heard of Sweet Arielle Bakery, owned by Norma Kessler, and named for her sweet daughter, Arielle. I spent a morning with Norma and her doting husband, Paul to photograph some of their offerings. I learned that Sweet Arielle Bakery delivers to all of the Triangle every week. In addition to their weekly deliveries, they sling their delicious treats, both sweet and savory, at the South Durham Farmers’ Market.
During our morning together, I learned that Norma’s home-based bakery has been in business for three years. She has been in the food and beverage industry for twenty years. Previous work affiliations include the Umstead Hotel and Spa, The Carolina Inn, and Whole Foods.
But what set Norma on this culinary career?
Paul lit up when he talked about Norma. He smiled as he told me what they think is Norma’s culinary origin story. In 1995, Paul and Norma were dating. She was in school to become a teacher. One day, he came home to his cozy studio apartment to find rose petals trailing into his kitchen and to a set table. A table covered with a black tablecloth he hadn’t seen before.
Paul said, “Maybe it was Valentine’s Day. Maybe it was a birthday.”
Norma shrugged and nodded.
A gorgeous meal was prepared with intricate garnishes. At this point in their relationship, Norma had never cooked for him before. He searched his apartment for his girlfriend, calling out her name. Just when he was about to give up and continue the search outside of his apartment, Norma jumps out from under the table and yells, simultaneously scaring Paul and snapping a photo of his frightened facial expression to keep for prosperity.
I asked if they still have this photo. They both nod and told me that they recently were looking at that photo.
They sat down for that meal and Paul was so impressed by the quality of this romantic surprise meal that he asked Norma where she found the recipe. She got up and pulled out a magazine and flipped to a page. Paul was expecting a magazine recipe. He was shocked to see she was inspired by just a photograph. An advertisement for Estancia wine. She was able to reverse engineer the meal just by looking at a photo. It was that moment that Paul lovingly told Norma that he thought her calling was actually a culinary life. Soon after, she enrolled in culinary school.
How amazing is that origin story?
What is Norma passionate about?
In our hour together, something that came up repeatedly was how deeply Norma cares about the environment. She kept saying, “I have a kid!” Meaning, she wants the world to still be here in its beautiful glory for her child’s future. “The biggest thing I care about is my footprint.”
I ask her what were some of the steps she takes to help decrease her carbon footprint. She mentions her gardens where she grows some of her own fruits and edible flowers, which she uses to decorate her custom cakes. She composts and even gave me some composting tips to pass on to my mom. (Bake your eggshells and grind them down and your compost pile will thrive.) She uses every part of the lemon, freezing the zest for later use.
She also sources and sells seasonally to help eliminate the transport pollution that happens when you don’t source locally and seasonally. Currently, it’s strawberry season in North Carolina. Her home was fragrant with strawberries as she cooked down her strawberries on her stove. She sent me home with a jar by the way, and it’s DELICIOUS.
And finally, she incentivizes her regular customers to give back their jam jars with free cookies, allowing her to reuse her jars and help eliminate waste.
Where can you find Sweet Arielle Bakery goods?
You can find her sweet and savory goods at the South Durham Farmers’ Market. And they deliver all over the Triangle once a week and field orders from their website. They fed me an empanada and now I can personally vouch for them. The empanadas made me want to find Norma’s table at the market and eat my way through her creations.
The empanadas were so flakey and had a spicy kick I’m always yearning for. As I go through life searching for good eats, I don’t come across a lot of savory pastries with a spicy kick. I love the unabashed decision to be spicy! Paul told me that he had people who don’t usually eat spicy foods coming back for these empanadas. He recommended frying an egg and placing it on top of the empanadas for an even better experience.
I’m so humbled to have these two small business owners let me in their home during a pandemic. (I left my mask on, took my shoes off, and washed my hands before starting the session.) I encourage you to check out their website and if you’re in the Durham area, give them a visit. You’ll be charmed by Norma and Paul, and their fare will have you coming back for more. If you’re not in the Durham area, you can order for delivery in the Triangle once a week! They are currently researching shipping outside of North Carolina.
For more coverage about local businesses in the Triangle, feel free to check out my Ultimate Guide to the Triangle. For a rolling list of restaurants still open during the pandemic, click out this list.
To read about the first photo shoot in this series, check out this post on Cloche Coffee in Durham.
Follow my eating adventures and happenings on Instagram. You can also see what is catching my attention in the food world on Twitter and Facebook. I also recently launched a Patreon to share some behind the scenes of running a food and travel blog. I just joined TikTok and Youtube too.
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