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New East Village dessert shop serves up peach cobbler, lemon bars and more Southern treats from Navy veteran

Navy veteran and pastry chef Chan Buie in her East Village bakery, Hey Sugar.
Navy veteran and pastry chef Chan Buie in her new Hey Sugar! dessert shop in East Village.
(Pam Kragen / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Chan Buie’s Southern-inspired Hey Sugar! dessert shop is now in its soft opening stage near Petco Park in East Village.

Chan Buie was born and raised in Los Angeles, but she spent her childhood summers in Northern Mississippi, where she indulged in rich Southern desserts like peach cobbler and banana pudding, as well as red velvet, coconut pineapple and Sock it to Me cakes.

After retiring from a 20-year career in the Navy two years ago, the downtown San Diego resident launched the second phase of her working life. She’s now founder and full-time baker for her Southern-inspired Hey Sugar! dessert shop, now in its soft opening stage near Petco Park in East Village.

Buie’s store sells an extensive variety of fresh-baked and oversize cookies, macarons, lemon bars, brownies, single-serving Phat cakes (they’re like chubby cupcakes), cobblers, cheesecakes, puddings and fried-to-order mini doughnuts.

Buie makes everything from scratch in a Barrio Logan commercial kitchen and she prides herself on using top-quality ingredients and big portion sizes. Prices start at $2.50, with most items in the $4 to $5 range. To guarantee freshness, anything not sold the day it’s baked goes on the specials rack at deeply discounted prices.

A single-serving strawberry Phat cake at Hey Sugar! Sweets.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Since the shop’s soft opening in June, Buie said business has been growing week by week. So far, her top-selling items are her peach cobblers, lemon bars, cheesecakes and jar cakes (parfait-style layers of cake and frosting in a canning jar). She plans to expand hours soon as business and staffing grow, and she’s planning a grand opening on Sept. 17.

Buie learned the basics of cooking from her dad, but she discovered her passion for the culinary arts at age 16, when the home economics teacher at her high school began taking her into restaurant kitchens around L.A. She said these restaurant trips were a revelation because she’d never seen a blueberry or fresh herb before, having grown up in the food desert of the housing projects in South Central L.A.

In April 2000, she joined the Navy and moved to San Diego, but her job as a counselor required frequent deployments to places like Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, where she counseled service members struggling with their work and distance from home. She had her own health issues, as well, and retired on medical disability in September 2020.

Customers shop for treats at the new Hey Sugar! Sweets store in East Village on Aug. 5.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Whenever she was home in San Diego between deployments, Buie cooked and baked for friends, who encouraged her to start her own cottage business. In 2009, she launched Mama Chan’s Kitchen, where she served home-cooked meals from the trunk of her car and did takeout Sunday platters for the after-church crowd. In 2013, she decided to focus all her energy on desserts and changed her business name to Hey Sugar!

Over the past nine years, she sold her desserts online, at pop-up events and at street fairs like the East Village Night Market. Although customers begged her for many years to open her own shop, she resisted.

“I didn’t want it,” she said. “I’m from the housing projects. I was not exposed to business owners when I was growing up, so I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. But one night I had a dream that I was sitting in a pink café and I realized when I woke up that it was my own café, so I decided it was a sign to open my own business. In the Navy, we don’t believe in the word ‘no.’ We always find a workaround, so I was determined to make it happen.”

Her new shop — on the ground floor of the Park 12 apartment complex off Imperial Avenue — has the pink walls Buie dreamed about. It also has an original mural designed by artist Daryl Shawn with pictures of Buie’s inspiration, Maya Angelou, and words from two of Angelou’s most-famous poems, “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman.”

The secret ingredient in Chan Buie's lemon bars at Hey Sugar! Sweets shop is lots of fresh butter.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The shop also has a shelf filled with table games for customers to play when they visit. She plans to open an upstairs lounge soon where people can relax with their sweets and glasses of the nitro cold-brew coffee and kombucha she has on tap.

“My goal is to create this nice, homey family atmosphere in the middle of the city,” she said. “I want it to be a mom-and-pop place where people can come in with their children, play games and take some time off for themselves.”

Hey Sugar! dessert shop

When: 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturday. Hours will expand in the coming weeks

Where: 101 Park Plaza, Suite 102, San Diego

Online: heysugarsweets.com

The top-selling items at Hey Sugar! Sweets are these single-serving peach cobblers.
The top-selling items at Hey Sugar! Sweets are these single-serving peach cobblers, which are baked in miniature tins, so they can be warmed up in the oven at home.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)


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