SweetArt holds a special place in my heart. Five years ago, I was living at home and working for a nonprofit. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I had some vague ideas. I wanted to follow my dream of becoming a writer, so I applied to a bunch of MFA programs for fiction writing and screenwriting. I also applied to one journalism program on a whim. Guess which one I got into?
In the meantime, to make extra money, I would blog about different restaurants in St. Louis. I read about SweetArt and went to talk to one of the owners, Reine Bayoc. She was charming and the café and bakeshop was just as warm and welcoming as she was. The space is right around the corner from the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, so I would go there for lunch after I’d get produce during the summer.
Grad school took me to Chicago, and then my first job took me to D.C. Life brought me back to St. Louis. After I got here and settled in, I thought of SweetArt.
Today I went back and it was even better than I remembered it. From the second you step through the door, you feel welcome. The shop faces the sun, so there’s good light and literal warmth everywhere. But it’s also figuratively warm: The barista/cashier smiled at me and told me that she liked my avocado earrings. I felt like I had known her for years. People sat at tables scattered around the room, talking quietly and enjoying their food.
I ordered the “Make It Funky” burger, which is vegan and comes with a house BBQ sauce. When the waitress brought it over to the table, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. The vegan cheese was melty, the BBQ sauce was fragrant and sweet, and the vegan bacon was salty and crisp. I took a bite and temporarily blacked out.
My favorite thing about the food at SweetArt is that even though it’s vegan, it doesn’t taste vegan. The flavors are fresh, delicious and hearty, and there’s soul in every dish. The burger doesn’t taste like an all-beef patty, but you don’t miss the meat.
I’ve been craving brownies, so I was happy to see a big, fudgy brownie on a cake stand near the register. When I took a bite, I said, “whoa” under my breath. Maybe I said it louder than I thought, because the woman next to me looked over and raised her eyebrows. I wasn’t exaggerating. I was having a moment with that brownie and I’ll never forget it.
There’s a chalkboard near the register that says “Always Choose Forgiveness.” When I saw it, it resonated with me. I thought about the thing I’ve been most angry about lately: America electing Trump. How can I forgive this country for electing a spray-tanned, maniacal orange misogynist/racist/bigot into the White House? I asked myself.
Then, I realized that’s what forgiveness is all about. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. I don’t have to agree with what this country did. I DEFINITELY don’t have to like it, and I won’t. But the only way forward is with an open heart.