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Rum Sweets: A ‘sweet’ spot to be

Marinette woman moves mobile bakery from lower Michigan to brick-and-mortar location in Northeast Wisconsin

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March 23, 2023

MARINETTE – The beginning months of the COVID-19 pandemic left many uncertain about what the future would bring.

Fear of the unknown and unsure of what steps to take next were common themes.

Ashley Odle, a 2003 Marinette Catholic Central (MCC) High School graduate, said the pandemic nudged her into making a life-altering decision.

“When the pandemic hit, I was working at a wedding cake shop in South Bend (Indiana),” Odle said. “Like everybody else, it completely threw us for a loop. I was laid off because people weren’t having weddings.”

Though Odle had committed to the bakery for five years so the owner could book orders ahead – “sometimes, weddings are booked a year in advance” – she said she got the blessing to “create her own dreams.”

“(My boss) said to me, ‘Ashley, I know you’ve been working toward opening your own bakery, so you need to do what you need to do,’” she said. “It gave my husband Shayne and I the drive to take the next step.”

Odle said they cashed in their savings and bought a food truck, and Rum Sweets was born.

“It’s a 17-foot-long-box trailer,” she said. “I was fully licensed in there and fully self-contained as a bakery. We went to fairs and markets and popped up at parks. Among other things, we sold cupcakes, cookies, cakes, etc. We have been doing that for the last two-and-a-half years.”

Odle said the food truck gave her a market test to see if she and her husband “could take the next step.”

“I’ve been able to test products and schedules and get my hands dirty,” she said. “It got our feet wet and was fantastic. I’m just tired of being outside. It’s a food truck, and I’m in and out that door – it’s always too hot or too cold.”

With Rum Sweets being well situated to take that next step, Odle said, “we couldn’t resist.”

“We had always planned on opening a bakery, but we never planned on the food truck step in the middle,” she said. “It was a relatively low-cost way for us to understand what we were doing.”
Path to Michigan
After graduating from MCC, Odle said she lived in the Northeast Wisconsin area for about six years.

“I even lived in De Pere for a while,” she said. “I was doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I had no idea what life was going to be.”

In 2009, Odle moved to Southwest Michigan.

“I followed my adopted family there from this area, and that’s where I fell in love with baking,” she said. “I lived next door to a bakery – it was similar to a Mennonite-run one. I loved it – it was my happy place. After moving there in 2009, I worked in different bakeries in Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana.”

Over the years, Odle said she learned all she could about baking from some great mentors.
“I didn’t teach myself,” she said. “I was fortunate to work with some great bakeries – I absorbed as much as I could.”
Finding that perfect location
Odle said the path to finding a permanent brick-and-mortar location has been interesting.

“Last summer, we repainted our food trailer and were looking at where our business was going,” she said. “Because we were ready to take that next step, I knew I didn’t want to keep going fully out of the food trailer – I needed to make that change.”

Though Odle grew up in Marinette County, she said that region wasn’t initially on her radar.

“My dear friend, Jamie Wingers, who is like a sister to me, connected with the owner of a bakery in Marinette, and the conversations started,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made this connection if she wasn’t there – I’d still be in Michigan and not thinking about being where I am.”

After some initial conversations, Odle said she and her family took a trip to Marinette last Halloween.

“We looked at the bakery and fell in love with it – it’s a great opportunity in a historic area in downtown Marinette,” she said.
Odle said the bakery, which was called Bake & Brew, has been closed since September 2022.

“The current owner isn’t in the state much and just can’t run it anymore,” she said.

Odle said there’s also another perk to the location at 1703 Stephenson St. – a living space upstairs.

“The intention is as a family, we’ll move upstairs and run the bakery downstairs,” she said. “It’s two blocks off the main drag with beautiful brick buildings and the interstate bridge nearby.”

Odle said her husband and two children will make their way to Marinette soon – hopefully.

“My husband grew up in Niles, Michigan, and is a combat veteran – he doesn’t talk about it much, but I’m extremely proud of him,” she said. “We always thought we’d move somewhere south, so he is a bit reluctant to move farther north.”

Odle said the residence upstairs is “like a bribe.”

“It’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t even have to go outside to go to work – you can just come downstairs and see me, right?’” she said. “He works 100% remotely. We’re making compromises to deal with the weather.”

Rum Sweets owner Ashley Odle said her business specializes in wedding cakes, special occasion cakes, cupcakes, cookies, donuts and confections. Photo Courtesy of Rum Sweets

Odle said another draw to her family is the outdoor life Northeast Wisconsin offers.

“We’re campers, kayakers and fishermen,” she said. “It doesn’t get better than coming home for that.”

Despite being thrilled to “come back home,” Odle said it won’t be easy to leave Southwest Michigan.

“I have mixed emotions,” she said. “I love the community in Michigan – I wouldn’t be where I am without their community support. I almost feel like I’m betraying some fantastic customers by leaving. Sure, I don’t want to be colder than I already am, but I’ve found since I’m coming home – I haven’t even been that verbal about it – there has already been so much community support. As I get closer and closer, I’m getting more excited.”

Odle said with a projected opening date of April 4, her husband and kids will most likely be in Marinette the third week in April.

“We’re selling our house in Michigan, so things depend on that as well,” she said. “My husband will have to wear quite a few hats while I’m in Marinette.”

Even though the brick-and-mortar location will be up and running in early April, Odle said they plan to continue the food truck.

“I’m hoping over the next year or two, I will have an employee who has the dedication and doesn’t mind the rigors of food truck life,” she said. “In that case, we’ll have the food truck going around Marinette County. I’m holding on to it, because it was lucrative.”
What’s in a name?
Odle said picking a name for her business was “definitely a process.”

“Originally, I wanted to be ‘Rumpelstiltskin’s Sweets,’ because we would turn straw into gold and create your perfect custom sweets,” she said. “I quickly realized it wasn’t a good choice – too hard to spell.”

From there, Odle said she reworked the name to honor her great-grandparents.

“Decades ago, my great-grandparents owned a tavern called ‘Polish Corners’ in Peshtigo,” she said. “My great-grandma was known for her rum cake, far and wide. When I grew up, I wanted to be like them. Every time someone eats a slice of my great-grandma’s rum cake, I keep their memory alive.”

The Rum Sweets name stuck.
Changing things up
Odle said the former Bake & Brew space is “pretty much all set up for me to hit the ground running.”

“I’m going to rearrange a little and make it work for me,” she said. “We’re making some updates per the health department’s request, because the building is changing hands. For the most part, we’re going to paint and put shelves up – cosmetic changes… nothing major.”

One thing Odle said she wants to do is “increase her wedding business a lot.”

“I’d imagine we’d deliver within an hour of Marinette, so Green Bay and Brown County are in that area,” she said. “With so much space in the bakery, I can accommodate a lot of weddings. I want to become a wedding cake destination in the area.”

Odle said she also hopes to dive into the commercial side of her business.

“Any restaurant, etc. who needs any kind of baked good, I’m looking to build good commercial revenue,” she said. “I’m going to be shaking hands and being in a lot of restaurants that might benefit from fresh bread or a good dessert cake.”
Help wanted
Odle said she may have to hire a few people, depending on the traffic she sees coming through the door.

“I have a husband who can help, too,” she laughed. “I’m working with the previous owner of the bakery and giving some of the former employees at least that chance to continue. I don’t want to come in and just bring in new people. There’s a lot of value in someone who has been there before me. I will probably be adding a couple of part-time people right away until I figure out what our traffic is – it’s going to be a learning curve. Jamie is going to be my cake decorator and be a big part of this whole thing.”

Odle said the bakery has sweets for all occasions, “but tweens and teens seem to be big customers for me.”

Ashley Odle

“One of my favorite cookies we sell is a six-ounce cookie,” she said. “It’s a confetti cookie with an Oreo in the middle, and then it’s rolled in sprinkles – we call it a ‘Unicorn Patty.’ They’re fun, cute things people remember.”

Odle said another big seller out of Rum Sweet’s food trailer was “Pile Ups.”

“It’s our own creation,” she said. “It’s like an ice cream sundae, but you get to build it up.”

Odle said it comes with a baked base – a brownie, cookie or donut.

“Then you can choose what toppings, ice cream or frosting (you want),” she said. “You get this giant custom sundae with anything you could want from a bakery – it’s really fun. That was one of our big food truck sales, and it’s something we’re keeping moving into the bakery because people love to customize.”

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