Melissa Miller creates memories through food

"The best memories of my life are those spent cooking with my mom and grandma."

Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly

Melissa Miller creates memories through food

Written by: Julia Perla Huisman
May 21, 2018


For Melissa Miller, food is about more than what you consume for sustenance. It’s about memories, and family, and traditions passed down through the generations. It conveys love for others and opportunities for creative expression. All of this is central to Sweet Melissa, the foodie lifestyle brand Miller has created and continues to develop.  

The Michigan City native started out making cakes and desserts for weddings but her business has quickly evolved. Lately she’s doing less baking and more sharing, through her popular and beautifully styled dessert-themed workshops. She does still make caramels (one of her signature sweets), and this month she’s launching an online shop featuring food-related items that Miller carefully selected or handcrafted herself. 

We sat down with Miller to talk food, family, and the beauty of her brand.  

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For Melissa Miller, food is about more than what you consume for sustenance. It’s about memories, and family, and traditions passed down through the generations. It conveys love for others and opportunities for creative expression. All of this is central to Sweet Melissa, the foodie lifestyle brand Miller has created and continues to develop.  

The Michigan City native started out making cakes and desserts for weddings but her business has quickly evolved. Lately she’s doing less baking and more sharing, through her popular and beautifully styled dessert-themed workshops. She does still make caramels (one of her signature sweets), and this month she’s launching an online shop featuring food-related items that Miller carefully selected or handcrafted herself. 

We sat down with Miller to talk food, family, and the beauty of her brand.  

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up cooking and baking? 

I grew up being an only child and only grandchild on my mom’s side. So I’ve always been really close with my family and felt very loved. The best memories of my life are those spent cooking with my mom and grandma—or Memaw, we called her, because she’s southern. Before I could talk, I was in a high chair at the kitchen counter watching Memaw make her southern family favorites, like biscuits, banana pudding, and Snickerdoodles. I feel as if cooking is an instinct I’ve inherited, and it’s something that connects our family’s generations together. 

When did you realize you could make a business out of it? 

My full-time job is as a magazine art director. Over the years, I became known in the office for bringing in treats and desserts I baked. I would get requests for people’s birthdays and often hosted themed lunches cooking for everyone. After getting so much positive response I thought, why not try to create something out of this. Because making people happy with food has always been my true passion.  

Your aesthetic is just as much a part of your brand as the desserts you make. What was your goal with your branding and how did you make it happen? 

Working as a designer for many years definitely gave me a leg up visualizing my brand. I knew the importance of creating a cohesive identity and from the beginning I really invested in it, hiring a team for business consulting, building a custom website, and doing photo shoots.

Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly

What was your childhood like? Did you grow up cooking and baking? 

I grew up being an only child and only grandchild on my mom’s side. So I’ve always been really close with my family and felt very loved. The best memories of my life are those spent cooking with my mom and grandma—or Memaw, we called her, because she’s southern. Before I could talk, I was in a high chair at the kitchen counter watching Memaw make her southern family favorites, like biscuits, banana pudding, and Snickerdoodles. I feel as if cooking is an instinct I’ve inherited, and it’s something that connects our family’s generations together. 

When did you realize you could make a business out of it? 

My full-time job is as a magazine art director. Over the years, I became known in the office for bringing in treats and desserts I baked. I would get requests for people’s birthdays and often hosted themed lunches cooking for everyone. After getting so much positive response I thought, why not try to create something out of this. Because making people happy with food has always been my true passion.  

Your aesthetic is just as much a part of your brand as the desserts you make. What was your goal with your branding and how did you make it happen? 

Working as a designer for many years definitely gave me a leg up visualizing my brand. I knew the importance of creating a cohesive identity and from the beginning I really invested in it, hiring a team for business consulting, building a custom website, and doing photo shoots.

One huge factor that really shaped my overall look was working with photographer Erika Mattingly. Her style is more natural and somewhat moody, and that really captured the heart of my brand. It made me realize that I want to be real and true to myself. I incorporate a lot of my own personal experiences and memories into my business. I think when you do that, you will always be unique and people will value your authenticity. 

I’m sweet but I’ve got an edge to me. I’m not going to have a bright, pink kitchen with fluffy aprons. I have more of a rustic, at-home, comfort food feel. 

Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly

How did you start doing workshops? 

Before launching my business, I took a good, hard look inside myself to find out what my true passion was. I realized it wasn’t just making food for people, but it’s bringing them together and creating lasting memories. In my workshops, I wanted to combine a food class with a styled event-type atmosphere, allowing people to learn and create something of their own. There’s been great response from the Naked Cake & Cocktails workshops I’ve hosted at Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan. It’s about the overall experience—having conversations, sipping cocktails, tasting frosting. I plan to continue doing more workshops in other locations and with varying topics. 

What kinds of products are you looking to add in the future?  

I’m launching an online shop for my brand in early May. This will allow me to grow more into a foodie lifestyle brand. Each month I will be selling a limited quantity of my handcrafted caramels. But the most exciting part for me are the new products—a candle collection, custom order aprons, recipe cards, and more.  

What are some of the tough parts about owning your own business? Particularly a food-related business? 

It was incredibly difficult for me in the beginning. I knew nothing about business or any of the food permits. I googled a lot and reached out for guidance. Running a food-based business has proven to be harder than I ever imagined. From taking a food sanitation course, getting permits from the health department, and finding a commercial kitchen to rent, everything needs to be legit. This has definitely influenced my business. I’ve shifted my services and no longer take dessert orders so that I can focus on my workshops and online shop. The overhead costs are too high for a small business like mine who is renting kitchen space by the hour. 

What are some of your goals for the future? 

My big goal is to one day have a farmhouse property to host cooking classes and events. I would love to write a cookbook too. 

Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly
Photo Credit: Erika Mattingly

What do you hope your customers will gain from your products? What do you want them to feel from the whole Sweet Melissa experience? 

Three words to describe Sweet Melissa are: classic, warm, and authentic. I want people to be reminded of family dinners and the favorite cake their grandma always made… everything made with love and enjoyed with others. My food style is rich-tasting, comforting classics. I will always stay true to that. 

Learn more about Sweet Melissa’s products and workshops at melissamariemiller.com or on Instagram at @sweetmelissaofficial.