Twenty-two years is a lot of time to think about branching out. In fact, one might assume that because a business owner has maintained a successful operation for so long in a singular location, she has no interest in expanding. And yet after being on Melrose east of La Cienega since 1988, Sweet Lady Jane owner Jane Lockhart decided it was time to satisfy her eager customer base on the Westside. The bakery and café, located in a 1920s Mediterranean Revival building on the corner of Montana Avenue and 17th Street in Santa Monica, finally opened the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Clearly it's the right spot: Lockhart tells us the cases were nearly cleaned out by noon that day.
The official grand opening, however, takes place this weekend, starting this evening, December 3rd, when free coffee will be included with purchases from 5 to 9 p.m. during the Montana Avenue Holiday Walk. The first 100 customers on Saturday and Sunday get a free mini cupcake.
Sweet Lady Jane's signature cakes and treats — the triple berry cream cake, princess cake, mocha praline cake, lemon meringue tart, and sea salt brownies — are all part of the lineup. Savory menu items will also look familiar to longtime customers. “We decided to keep it simple,” Lockhart says. “And hopefully on Sunday we'll add some items for breakfast.” While most of the excitement is about the sweets, a midday crowd proved that the sandwiches (roasted turkey breast, curried chicken salad, tuna, grilled cheese), a couple of fresh salads, and daily soup choices attract plenty of customers to Sweet Lady Jane, too. The commissary kitchen located on Riverside in the Silver Lake/Frogtown area enables the operation to maintain quality control and consistency, yet pastries, cupcakes, brownies, tarts, and other individual piece items are baked on site.
As for the look and feel of the new place, it's not unreasonable to call it SLJ 2.0. Lockhart enlisted local architect and designer Alexis Readinger of Preen for the Santa Monica project. “We mixed styles — what we wanted, and what she thought we should have — and it totally worked,” Lockhart says. It also helped that the business already had certain long-established components of its visual identity. Readinger explains the “leaf and vine was our starting point conceptually,” and the mullion window on Melrose and the vine patterns that make Sweet Lady Jane's cakes stand out in any crowded shelf provided plenty to work from. Plus Readinger infused a small dose of Art Nouveau inspiration. Juxtaposed gray and white tones, a beautiful wall behind the counter clad with large hexagonal marble tiles, soapstone countertops, blooming floral pendant light fixtures, and delicate stencil work might make folks who live closer to the West Hollywood think about going across town instead. Natural light floods in through large storefront windows and a skylight. A small corner tufted lime green banquette is clearly the prized seat in the house. For the main entrance, Readinger found a salvage door from Pennsylvania that would satisfy the pickiest of historic preservation commissions.
While the original location now counts among its neighbors ultra chic boutiques — Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Vera Wang — that moved into the neighborhood well after Sweet Lady Jane attracted folks to west Melrose, pedestrian life there isn't exactly buzzing. So Readinger decided to take best advantage of the heavy foot traffic along Montana. A cake decorating station is placed front and center in the window, as Readinger says, to “create a point of interest.” Apparently it's already a hit with the many kids who stroll by. Fortunately pastry chef Gillian Opatrny is up to the task of deftly handling this public performance component.
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