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When Sarah Parrott and Elissa Wilder worked together at the Chico’s corporate office in Fort Myers, they discovered they had a shared passion: baking. Parrott designed stores and Wilder designed clothing, but in their free time they liked to get together in each other’s kitchens. One would bring the orange juice, the other would bring the champagne. They’d pour mimosas and bake treats for everyone they knew. 

When COVID-19 hit and Chico’s was forced into layoffs, Parrott’s department went from 63 staff members down to 10, and she was among those let go. She decided to take a break from interior design and spent 2020 at home with her young son. Wilder, meanwhile, was still at Chico’s but struggling with the demands of remote work. 

Early in 2021, the two got together for coffee and joked about opening their own business. “That’s how it started,” Parrott says. “In January, it was a joke. By February our joke turned into, ‘What do you think about this name for the business?’” By March 2021, they had applied for a business license. Today, the two women run Sweet Real, a baking and gift operation based in Fort Myers.

They’ve seen their client list double over the last year. The pair bakes sweets for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—any occasion that calls for a treat. They offer the option of combining their baked goods with thoughtfully curated gift sets that might include tea towels, potted plants and coffee mugs. Their biggest clients are local real estate agents who want personalized gifts for their buyers on closing day.

Most of the baked treats come from family recipes, such as the German chocolate caramel brownies that are a Parrott family staple. Other favorites include espresso caramel brownies, flourless brownies and chocolate chip cookies. “We’ve taken recipes we love and made for years, and we’ve made them better,” Parrott says. Because she eats a gluten-free diet, she also offers a menu of gluten-free treats. “But you’d never know they’re gluten-free,” she says. 

Being an entrepreneur has come with its share of surprises. Parrott’s favorite? “In the corporate world, I was trying to jump every hurdle. I felt like my hair was always on fire. Sometimes people were appreciative, but not always.” Today her email inbox is full of thank-you notes, and it feels good to be putting something she made out into the world. “Now I get to make somebody’s day every day,” she says.

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One of the earliest entrepreneurial lessons Parrott and Wilder learned in their business was that they grew by growing with others. When the pair set up tables at events, they’d meet other local entrepreneurs. “Mostly women trying to do what they love,” Parrott says. The pair quickly made the decision to support the crowd they ran with. They started swapping out gift items they could find at big box retailers for local handmade goods—candles from The Wallflower Shoppe or Barley & Co., and bags of locally roasted coffee from La Paisa Bonita. “The space is big enough for everybody,” Parrott says. “It’s about partnering and sharing the love.” 

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