Takes the Cake

hen stepping into Sweet Impressions, the mouthwatering scent of cupcakes, chocolate and gourmet popcorn hang in the air like an arresting aromatic buffet for your nose.

The small shop, tucked next to Art Gecko on State Street, has few distinguishing features save for a bountiful and ornate cupcake tier in the front window display. But once your eyes sweep across the decadence of exquisitely swirled cupcake frosting, it’s hard to keep walking. Kathryn Olsen, a first-year graduate student at UW–Madison, opened the shop with help from dad Don in January. She says she wanted to provide people on the go with a place to buy just a piece of delicious chocolate for a low price, without committing to purchasing a whole bag or box of chocolates. The chocolates are imported and have a hard shell that encases melt-in-your-mouth centers like chocolate truffle and creamy caramel. Kathryn’s personal favorite is the mint meltaway.

The rest of the goodies offered in the shop, like the specialty popcorn and cupcakes, are homemade and offer an appetizing marriage of sweet and salty for customers with a craving for both. Olsen works with her dad to create unique and savory popcorn flavors, like the spicy jalapeno cheddar, and also perfects the classic flavors like golden caramel and Don’s personal favorite, chocolate caramel drizzle. This buttery guilt of a treat has the traditional caramel taste with white and milk chocolate melted on top of the golden kernels. All of the popcorn is made from scratch and bagged immediately, which Don says contributes to the fresh taste of the kernels. The specialty popcorns, like the drizzle, are only $3 for an eight-ounce bag while the classics, like the Golden Caramel, are a sweet $2.50.

But perhaps the most satisfying treat at the shop is the cupcakes. With fourteen different flavors to choose from and just $1.75 apiece, these small, moist and extravagantly decorated goodies are the first thing your mouth will water for when walking through the shop door. Each cupcake is topped with a colorful swirl of light frosting—an ingredient that Kathryn says is one of the most important for the creation of a truly tasty cupcake.

“The frosting is what makes the cupcake moist and it’s really what makes a cupcake so good to eat,” she says.

The creative genius behind the cupcakes is Kathryn’s roommate, Bryce, who rotates the cupcake flavors and attempts to bring in different, unexpected flavors through personal experimentation, like with his quiche or carrot cake cupcakes.

Among the diverse options are the classics, like “The Favorite,” which pays homage to the simple confection you probably enjoyed as a kid with a moist white cake center and indulgent pink buttercream frosting that instantly prompts childhood nostalgia.

The tart, fresh “Lemon Drop” cupcake is topped with a heavy, sprinkled yellow frosting and a tiny lemon candy and is enhanced with subtle hints of zest baked into the ‘cake that satisfies both sour and sweet hankerings.

Besides offering sugary desserts and snacks for visitors to the downtown area, Kathryn also customizes unique gifts for customers and local companies, and says she wants customers to enjoy her treats and the shop’s atmosphere itself.

“We want people to enjoy the experience of shopping, so we try to make a ‘sweet impression’ on our customers,” she says.

Although the stress of owning her own shop and managing her academic load can be difficult, Kathryn says she likes being involved in the process of running the shop and customizing orders and that the shop adds to the general independent business ownership environment of State Street. Don says the shop has already established a presence downtown with regulars who come in weekly and attributes this to “the special atmosphere in this town.”

Whether you’re looking for a treat to show your sweetheart how much you care, or just want to satisfy a sweet or salty hankering, the flavors, smells and character of Sweet Impressions provides Madisonians and visitors alike with a sweet-tooth fix.

Sweet Impressions, 511 State St. 630-9030. mysweetmadison.com

Ann Rivall is an editorial intern with Madison Magazine.