Sweet Retreat Marks Four Years Serving the Town of Loyal

A few Sweet Retreat employees pose in front of their bakery case. From left ot right: Debbi Hatala, Kim Olson, Luna Zemke, Hilary Zemke and Tracy Much.

OnFocus – A business that started as a dream for a local couple has turned into four years of providing smiles and full bellies.

Sweet Retreat Cake Boutique, located on Main St. in Loyal, is celebrating its four-year anniversary on Friday and is hosting a drawing for free baked goods in the coming weeks.

When Hilary and Jared Zemke of Marshfield quit their jobs at a local grocery store to pursue their dreams of owning their own business, they did not think it would become what it is today.

“It was just supposed to be a cake shop for me,” Hilary said. “I was making $30,000 a year at the grocery store and [cakes] were all I wanted to do. Never did I think that I would have 11 employees someday.”

Today, they run a full-service bakery that is open six days a week, a made-to-order cake shop for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and weddings, and they have branched out to surrounding municipalities to provide their products.

Sweet Retreat’s baked goods are available at the Cattails Coffee at the Marshfield Medical Center, Russell’s of Neillsville Hardware Store, Ground Up Coffee Shop in Stratford, the Coffee Coup in Colby and Scott and Lori’s Family Foods in Owen.

Sweet Retreat offers a variety of good-tasting products.

Opening the bakery didn’t come without hardships or sacrifice.

Jared said before they had even thought about owning their own bakery, Hilary was putting in 16-plus hour days between her job, school and baking and it was pretty stressful for her.

“Before we opened the bakery, Hilary was working full-time, going to school and doing cakes from home on the side,” Jared said. “She was constantly staying up well past midnight to work on the cakes.”

Jared said there was a moment where they needed to make a decision: whether to give up making cakes from home or just go full-time with it.

“The breaking point was the weekend where she had 16 cake orders lined up,” Jared said. “That’s where she had to decide if she should back off cake orders or if she should start her own business. I’m glad she had the courage to make the leap to start her own business because even though there’s been a ton of stressful times, you can see how rewarding it is for her. I’m proud of her!”

In the beginning, the duo still held full-time jobs while traveling to Loyal every night to work on the building and get it ready to open up to the public.

Decorating cupcakes and tiered cakes for weddings is a passion of Hilary’s.

Turning what was a cell-phone carrier store into a bakery was no easy task. Walls were knocked down, industrial freezers, coolers, ovens, etc. were installed and the run-down building needed a face-lift. The couple were joined by family and friends as the building slowly transformed from a tech store into a fully-functional bakery.

The Zemkes lived on the south side of Marshfield, yet they spent nights at a time sleeping at the bakery so they could work through the night to meet the needs of customers ordering cakes or baked goods.

Jared also helped with construction and installation of new appliances and was spending every minute he had out at the bakery while holding down his full-time job as a produce manager at a local grocery store.

Hilary’s parents were essential to the success of the bakery. Her mother and step-father, Lynn and Darren Rachu, along with their son, Mason, volunteered countless hours of their time remodeling the inside of the building or helping as cashiers or bakers. Hilary’s father and step-mother Don and Amy Hoffman worked in the bakery and helped with projects as well.

Darren and Lynn said they knew she was a hard worker but didn’t know she would work this hard and often to make the business a success.

“I’m really impressed by her work ethic,” Darren said. “Getting up at 4 a.m. or 3 a.m. and working, working on Saturdays and Sundays, just to make it go. It’s been impressive.”

“I think she’s handled it wonderfully,” Lynn said. “Better than you would think somebody could handle that. She’s just so dedicated and loves what she does. She’s got a lot of good people working for her too that are able to help her out.”

Hilary attributed some of her success to all the help she’s gotten from family over the years.

“From helping us start out, to any continued issues that we have, [my family] has been more than willing to help,” Hilary said. “We just got a new oven and we wouldn’t have been able to do that ourselves had it not been for Darren.”

Hilary’s aunt and uncle Jodie Gardner and Kevin Rachu own the building in which Sweet Retreat resides and Hilary said there would be no bakery without their help and support.

It’s easy for the Zemkes to get instant gratification from seeing a kid enjoy a cookie or donut or watch their regular group of ladies enjoy fellowship in the form of a coffee and breakfast treat. Another form of happiness they enjoy is watching their employees grow as people and bakers or decorators.

“I had one employee that is going to baking school right now,” Hilary said. “I would like to think that she enjoyed what she did with us and eventually decided that that’s what she wanted to do.”

From high schoolers to everyday, full-time workers, Sweet Retreat has provided jobs to the Loyal area and has helped those looking to be a part of a bakery achieve that dream.

Hilary said she is thankful that the town of Loyal has brought them in and treated them like family during their first few years in the area.

“To have a full bakery that the small town of Loyal has supported has been pretty cool,” Hilary said. “I can’t thank our customers and partners enough for the constant support they have given us throughout the years.”

A wonderful disruption in Jared and Hilary’s schedule and life came in the form of their first daughter, Luna. Unable to take maternity leave, Hilary worked all the way through her pregnancy and was back at the bakery decorating cakes and delivering them to weddings shortly after Luna’s birth.

Jared meanwhile, has been working as the Food Service Director at the Loyal School District and still spends time at the bakery watching Luna or helping with small tasks.

Throughout the years, the Zemkes have toyed with the idea of expanding to a second location, looking at buildings in Owen and Colby. They recently announced on Facebook that they would be sending their baked goods to Owen to be sold in Scott and Lori’s Family Foods with hopes of putting a full-size bakery in the store someday.

The family is expecting their second child in April and Hilary said her plans to expand to a second location may be put on hold.

“Kids are thrown into the mix right now,” Hilary said. “Not that I don’t have a goal but I’m trying to be realistic about trying to raise a family and continue success with the bakery. I guess if that means just riding it out so I can keep the business and do more when the kids are grown up, that would be a goal for sure.”

In the past, the couple has organized a giveaway of free baked goods for their anniversary celebrations. This year is no different as they will be posting an infographic with information on how you can enter into the drawing in the coming days.

If you would like more information about Sweet Retreat or their products, check them out on Facebook.

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Neal Hogden
Author: Neal Hogden