Industry Insiders: Marlo Scott, Sweet Revenge

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The story behind Marlo Scott’s quaint Carmine Street cupcake, wine, and beer bar is more saucy than sweet. Vowing to take her ‘sweet revenge’ on a former employer after being laid off, Scott opened her unlikely concept bar in the West Village, earning her clientele from the ground up. Scott moved to New York in ’99, first working as an investment banker to learn the business ropes and subsequently opening her first venue in ’08, a tough time for even well-known hospitality pros. But Scott defied the odds for small-business owners. Recently, she and Sweet Revenge were featured in a TV spot for Chase’s Ink cards for small business owners (also in print, radio, and online ads). The results have been staggering, amping up demand for Scott’s exceptional beverages and goodies, including Savory Cakes (we recommend The Seville). More on the satisfaction of Sweet Revenge after the jump.

On turning patrons into regulars: Patrons are greeted when they come in, and they’re listening to some pretty fantastic tunes. We have the sounds of vacation on the I-pod: a lot of reggae, bossa nova, and Latin influences. I offer eclectic imported beers and really beautiful imported wines, which I pair with my cupcakes, savory cakes and cookies. Once people try the pairings, they’re like, “Oh my god, this is delicious!” It’s the combination of the vibe, the ambiance, being treated with really good cheer, and having something that is not only beautiful, but tastes amazing. The devil is in the details. I focus on nailing all of the many facets in running my small business, so that the impression I leave for someone is long lasting and special. I try to make this place really different for patrons. I think folks feel that energy in here. It’s a good, happy place.

On the differences in her cupcake, beer, and wine bar: Most places offering baked goods are shops – ie cupcake stores and bakeries. We’re a beer and wine bar serving badass baked goods. I styled out Sweet Revenge to be inviting, with a world-inspiration that feels like a place in Europe because that attracts a diverse mix of patrons. We are not trying to be a ring-the-register transaction; we’re creating an experience at Sweet Revenge. Patrons have a different emotional connection with their fave local wine bar than they do with their neighborhood bakery. My hat is off to the more traditional places and their success. But for me, because I spend my life here and it’s my life’s savings in here, I want it to be a playful, sexy and indulgent escape that makes patrons feel happy, and they carry that happiness out the door and into the world.

Why cupcakes? Back in 2005, when I didn’t get my promotion and I swore sweet revenge on my then-employer, I lived two blocks away from Magnolia. I would stand in line and study the place from a business model standpoint. I started investigating cupcakes in general, and I saw that anything in the world of cupcakes got national media attention. Back in 2005, Billy’s was open, Buttercup was open, Sugar Sweet Sunshine was open—I was starting to see this trend. Cupcake couture was hitting the scene; fashion lines were putting cupcakes on apparel. Crate and Barrel came out with a 24-pack cupcake carrier. I got laid off in 2007, so I decided I would get into cupcakes as a smart business decision. You can get into the business with fewer resources if you’re keeping it really simple.

On the execution: Before I opened, I surrounded myself with experts. Having never worked in the industry, I knew that I wasn’t qualified to be making certain decisions. I hired a phenomenal consulting chef, Daniel Rosati, to take all of my recipes and menu, re-engineer them, and bring new ideas to the table. I worked with a brilliant restaurant consultant, Lisa Chodosh, who guided me through critical processes such as the optimal space layout for this particular configuration. I have leveraged everything I learned in my corporate experiences. I’m not a baker and never had intentions of going to culinary school. I hire trained and talented pastry cooks who understand the science behind baking to bring my ideas to life. When you’re starting and running a small business, you don’t know what’s going to come down the pike, but you go confidently knowing you’re going to figure it out. The best thing you can do is invest in smart resources.

On Chase commercial fame: One of my lovely daytime regulars is a planner for Chase’s creative agency. I didn’t know her since I bartend at night and our paths didn’t cross. Fortunately for me, she loves my cupcakes and my place. She had been on my website and knew my story. As a result, she put my name into the hat to do focus groups for Chase. They video interviewed me — it was a blind interview so I didn’t know the context. I talked with them about my life in small business. Several months went by and I got the call from the agency saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been chosen to be the face of Ink.” It has been a really surreal and incredible couple of months. Since the commercial launched in early July, I’ve enjoyed hearing from friends across the nation on Facebook saying, “I saw you on television.” Neighbors stop in saying, “We’re just so happy for you.” It’s one of those unbelievable opportunities that you know is going to change your life in the most amazing way. This incredible publicity will help my small business get a whole lot bigger, which I’m excited about. I’m very blessed. I’m grateful to the folks at Ink, Chase’s small business credit card portfolio, for giving me this opportunity.

Guilty pleasures (aside from cupcakes): I’ve treated myself to some manicures, which I didn’t do for three years after I got laid off. We’ve been hand-washing dishes for the last two years at Sweet Revenge, and I decided I’m finally buying a machine dishwasher.

On the day-to-day: You have to look at the bigger picture. You’ve got to keep forward-focused, knowing you’re on a good path, and not get too down about whatever the bumps are. When I opened in July 2008, it was a tough and steep learning curve. There were no patrons. I used to stand out on the sidewalk and give away my baked goods. 2009 started out pretty damn rough but then I had some awesome opportunities with Martha Stewart and Fox 5, got written up in Time Out New York and won the magazine’s Eat Out award. Even though I’m still very small sales-wise, I’m on a great trajectory. I focus on all the positivity. I’ve been in New York since ‘99; I don’t know where the hell the last eleven years have gone. It goes by so fast. You blink and five years are gone. I can’t believe I’m already two years into Sweet Revenge. That first year was hard, but the second year was so much better. And here I am now, very excited about what the future holds.

Future plans: I’m going to be on an episode of Unique Eats for the Cooking Channel. Millionaire Matchmaker filmed at Sweet Revenge, and I think that airs in October. We’re working on a brunch menu and a wedding cake line. Hopefully one day I’ll pitch a book deal that becomes a best seller, which leads to a successful Hollywood blockbuster, you know? Let’s put it out there and then it can happen.

Go-tos: One of my favorite places is Pastis. I really do love going there. I studied all of Keith McNally’s restaurants, and he’s just a genius. I’m very fond of Café Noir, and I love brunch at Felix. They have great vibes. They really nailed it in creating a sexy escape.