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At Tampa’s Sucré Table, pastries and plants rule the day

Owner Brenda Villacorta is known for her Food Network wins and high-end treats.
 
Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta, left, and her mother, Giovanna Castro, pose for a portrait at the shop in Tampa in March.
Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta, left, and her mother, Giovanna Castro, pose for a portrait at the shop in Tampa in March. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published April 12, 2023|Updated April 13, 2023

TAMPA — Brenda Villacorta doesn’t particularly like to eat pastries.

That might sound strange, coming from someone who served as a head pastry chef at a top Manhattan restaurant, won several Food Network pastry challenges and now has her own Tampa bakery, Sucré Table, with treats like caramel banana tarts and strawberry Japanese cheesecake.

What Villacorta does like to do is make pastries. “I’m not a big pastry person,” she says, “but I get a lot of fulfillment from seeing people eat my pastries.” In addition to satisfying the growing number of fans who come into the Kennedy Boulevard store, her pastries have delighted sweets lovers at the Oxford Exchange, Tampa Bay Buccaneers VIP suites and many a catered affair.

Macarons, in raspberry, passion fruit and other flavors, are popular at Sucre Table in Tampa.
Macarons, in raspberry, passion fruit and other flavors, are popular at Sucre Table in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Sucré Table in Tampa sells a variety of treats.
Sucré Table in Tampa sells a variety of treats. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Kouign-Amann pastries are sold at Sucré Table in Tampa.
Kouign-Amann pastries are sold at Sucré Table in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Croissants are among the baked goodies at Sucré Table in Tampa.
Croissants are among the baked goodies at Sucré Table in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Villacorta was just 3 when her parents moved to the Tampa Bay area from Peru, where her grandmother had a cafe that sold pastries. In Florida, her mother started a business making cakes and sugar flowers, and by the time Villacorta was a senior in high school she knew pastries would be a big part of her life, too.

She graduated from New York’s Culinary Institute of America and trained under experts including Jean-Georges and pastry chef Dominique Ansel. At Le Bernardin, a three-star Michelin restaurant long considered one of the world’s best, she was not yet 21 when she managed the pastry cooks. The kitchens of high-end restaurants are notorious for their pressure-cooker atmospheres but Villacorta says she thrived.

“Working at Le Bernardin, you do it or you don’t do it and you’re fired. If you’re able to pull up through that and get to a high position, you’re gold.”

After giving New York “seven years of my soul,” Villacorta returned to the Tampa Bay area. She worked for her mother, then at a small Tampa restaurant and interviewed with others. But she realized she needed to be out on her own. Although she had a business degree and a business plan, she was turned down for space at Hyde Park Village and the booming Water Street development near downtown Tampa. Sucré Table finally opened in a small shopping center in July 2020, while the pandemic was still keeping many people away from stores.

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Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta poses for a portrait at the Tampa shop.
Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta poses for a portrait at the Tampa shop. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“It was the scariest thing,” she recalls. “The first week I wanted to hide under a rock. It was $200 every day and I think one day I made only $98. We don’t resell (leftover items) the next day so I was losing a lot of product and money and the hard part was educating Tampa about ingredients and why things cost a certain way.”

Business eventually picked up, so much so that in a satisfying turn of events, agents from Hyde Park and Water Street approached her about moving to one of their locations. Online reviews have been mostly rapturous. “Lavender and chocolate cake worth every calorie,” reads one. “Currently obsessed with this place,” says another.

“Best coffee I’ve had,” said customer Ramya Maddela, finishing an $8.75 white chocolate pistachio latte. “You can actually taste the real pistachios — it’s decadent. This is my favorite patisserie in town.”

Villacorta knows that some customers think her prices are high, but says that’s because she refuses to stint on ingredients.

“I use real pistachio paste and expensive chocolate. I haven’t cut the quality of my products.”

In addition to pastries, Sucré Table has macarons ($4), cakes (from $14.50), specialty drinks (from $8.25), croissants (from $7.50) and savory items like spinach Gruyere quiche ($12.50) and one of the bestsellers, a honey caramel, bacon, smoked Gouda and egg croissant sandwich ($10.50).

Villacorata says she was drawn to making pastries because of the science involved. With savory items, varying amounts of salt or spices can alter a dish for the better. “With pastries, if you add one tablespoon of salt when it’s supposed to be a teaspoon, well, you’re not coming back from that. It keeps you on your toes.”

Like other retail establishments, Sucré Table has struggled with staffing issues. An aunt helps out when she visits from Peru, and some cousins pitch in on busy weekends. Villacorta’s father cleans, and her mother, Giovanna Castro, works in the kitchen. The minimalist space is softened by ivy, staghorn ferns and even coffee plants that Castro grows at home, then sells in decorative containers in the store.

Giovanna Castro, mother of Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta, grows staghorn ferns and other plants that she sells in the store.
Giovanna Castro, mother of Sucré Table owner and pastry chef Brenda Villacorta, grows staghorn ferns and other plants that she sells in the store. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“If my mom has an opportunity for business, she’s going to take it,” Villacorta says, “and it fills the bakery up.”

Sucré Table has four paid employees and is looking to fill more positions. “Business is doing really, really well, it’s just a matter of how can it grow if we don’t have the correct staff,” Villacorta says. “If you think you’re just going to decorate cookies and brownies, it’s not like that. This is like New York, it’s a let’s hustle and get things done type of environment.”

Sucré Table is at 4048 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. info@sucretable.com.