PUBLISHED SEPT. 8, 2016
By ANDREA SHAY
Nestled near the south edge of Bradenton’s Village of the Arts lies Sugar Cubed Pastry Lab, a quaint cafe and bakery opened by Dana Johnson in 2014. The cafe specializes in catering and production, although a handful of locals drop by each morning for coffee, muffins and a little conversation.
Johnson decided to open the cafe after teaching for many years, including working as a teacher of pastry and baking arts at Manatee Technical College. “Eight years ago,” he said, “I was asked to create the pastry and baking curriculum. I taught there for years years … everyone said ‘You can’t open a bakery, there’s not enough of a market for it.’”
Large bakeries and grocery stores tend to dominate the area’s need for a bakery, but Johnson doesn’t care. Being the little guy just spurs him on. “I’m always looking for a new challenge,” he said.
Born and raised in Bradenton, Johnson knows a lot about the downtown’s history and development over the years. His family still lives here in town. While Johnson knew that he could likely find success in another market, he was against the idea of becoming another talented professional who left the area due to a lack of opportunities.
He said, “I decided to stay here and create the environment where I want to live,” rather than leaving to find the ideal market elsewhere. Johnson said, “I wanted to be a part of [Bradenton’s] downtown area, the downtown change. I wanted to be a part of the resurgence of building up a healthy, walkable downtown.”
Over time, Sugar Cubed gained a reputation for high quality, and they were approached by several expanding businesses asking to partner with the cafe. Sugar Cubed now sells fruit bouquets to area customers through a partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS.com, and they also supply all the tortillas for Poppo’s Taqueria.
“We were already doing similar things [to 1-800-FLOWERS] and they contacted us to see if we wanted to become a partner,” said Johnson. He saw the partnership as mutually beneficial. “We have a national business that now has a vested interest in the [Bradenton] Village, and it’s also helped us to get our name out there.”
“I love working with other businesses in the community because I believe if one person succeeds, we all succeed,” he added. “The owner [of Poppo’s] came to me and asked me if I had ever made tortillas.
“I said no, but I love to learn, so I made some up for him, and we went from there. They do ‘mission style,’ which is a steamed tortilla. Our task was to develop a tortilla that could give that authentic mission style tortilla experience but without the steaming process.
“I invested about $20,000 in equipment to help develop the tortillas. Poppos now has four stores and is looking into opening 20 more in the Florida and Georgia area, and we’ll grow along with their growth. So it’s kind of cool how that works together.”
The Sugar Cubed Pastry Lab is at 1506 13th St. W., Bradenton. Call 941-21-4092, or visit getsugarcubed.com for more information.