By Susannah Black
Environmental policy analyst-turned-dessert caterer-turned-food truck operator Sandra Panetta expands once more to open Sweetbites Cafe and Bakery in McLean, expected to open at the end of this month.
“I was one of the pioneers in the food truck industry in D.C.,” says Panetta, referring to her food truck, Sweetbites Mobile Cafe. The dessert food truck began operating in May 2010 with a focus on selling mostly cupcakes, but after five years of driving around D.C., Arlington and Fairfax, Panetta decided to put her dream of opening a bakery into action: “As a single mom, I knew I needed to expand. I always wanted to open a bakery, and it seemed like the right time.”
While Panetta will continue to sell cupcakes, she will significantly expand her dessert collection to include scones, fruit tarts, tea cakes, brownies, pudding and her grandmother’s tiramisu. A lemon cloud layer cake with lemon curd and meringue will be featured along with the midnight chocolate cake.
Twelve kinds of cupcakes will be available daily including a gluten-free option; Panetta’s standard cupcakes include red velvet, salted caramel and a carrot cake cupcake with maple frosting. In addition to weekly gourmet specials, Panetta plans on offering seasonal and holiday cupcakes. Coffee and espresso from Italian roasting company Illy will also be available.
Panetta is determined to prove Sweetbites as more than a dessert store: healthy, homemade salads, soups and sandwiches will be available to-go and will include items like the roasted vegetable sandwich with roasted squash, eggplant, red pepper, arugula and chive goat cheese on ciabatta and an Italian sandwich on a baguette with prosciutto, mozzarella, basil, arugula and olive tapenade. “Even though I love cupcakes, I’m excited to introduce other things,” Panetta says.
Keeping in touch with her Italian heritage, Panetta maintains that all food items will be housemade daily. “I grew up basically in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmother, and we were constantly cooking and everything was fresh from scratch,” says Panetta, who hopes to support area farms by sourcing vegetables and some dairy items locally.
Currently, Sweetbites will seat about 15 people within the cafe, but for the future, Panetta hopes to install an outside patio in order to accommodate more guests.
Although she is taking a break from running the food truck, Panetta assures that it will always be available for special events, and she would eventually like to expand further with other Sweetbites stores: “I’d like to open up more stores … but I’ll make sure the first shop runs smoothly.”/ Sweetbites Cafe and Bakery; 6845 Elm St., McLean