Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

J.L. Sousa/Register

Sweetie Pies, owned by Toni Chiappetta and located in the Napa Hatt Building at 600 Main St., has racked up a lot of accolades since opening in 1994.

It was a 2014 Martha Stewart “American Made” finalist. Last year, the wedding cakes were first runner up for the Best of Borrowed and Blue Awards, an online site for all things Napa weddings.

The pumpkin pie got a nod from Bon Appetit for one of the nation’s best mail-order pies. And the strawberry-rhubarb pie? It was featured in Food and Wine Magazine.

Heady stuff. And yet, Chiappetta, who is responsible for all the recipes at Sweetie Pies, says she will always remember her first childhood bake. It was a disaster.

“I made a chocolate mayonnaise cake,” she said. “I wanted to get the icing on before going to church with my parents, but it was too hot. When we got home, the top half had slid off and was all over the floor.”

Chiappetta grew up around food, as her family owned a luncheonette back East. She worked as a bartender while in college, but realized that wasn’t going to last forever and enrolled in a small cooking school in Cambridge, Mass.

She worked as a pastry chef on the East Coast until 1991, when she asked to be the opening pastry chef for Table 29 in Napa.

A few years later, she was at a crossroads about her next move, and baked as she contemplated. On a whim, she made the rounds with some of her creations and dropped them off.

“I took baked goods to Oakville Grocery but didn’t even have a business card.”

Oakville ordered from her anyway, and so did lots of others. And with that, Sweetie Pies was born.

Sweetie Pies opened its retail space in 2000, a quaint spot where locals meet to schmooze over coffee and pastries, breakfast and lunch. At first, it was tough.

“Just about the time we built up a good business, we had to deal with years of flood control construction, which made us this little island nobody could get to. After we recovered from that, the recession hit.”

Today, they are on strong footing, with a wholesale market that extends nationwide and a successful restaurant. Chiappetta’s staff is fiercely loyal. Elmer has been with her from day one, and Romeo has been with her for more than 15 years. Most stay far longer than “normal.”

Chiappetta is very quick to support the community. “You come in here with a kid in need, you’re going to get something.”

Years ago, when asked to bake cookies for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony downtown, she didn’t blink before agreeing to donate 300 cookies, something she’s now done for years.

The food at Sweetie Pies is amazing, and so is Chiappetta’s heart for Napa.

Sweetie Pies is open daily. Visit SweetiePies.com or call for take at 257-8817.

See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.

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