The Sweet Truth satisfies Winston-Salem’s sweet tooth
Through many trials and tribulations, a Winston-Salem business owner finds serenity and purpose in her profession. Baker, army veteran, and mother Faith Harris McKnight owns The Sweet Truth Baking and Catering, a Minority Black Women Enterprise, Historically Underutilized Business, and certified home bakery located in the Boston-Thurmond Neighborhood of Winston-Salem.
“It sounds like sweet tooth,” she said of the name of her business. “We black folks always say, ‘oh that is the truth’ or ‘your cooking is the truth.’ So, my baking is the sweet truth. I have [a couple] slogans too: ‘I heard you had a sweet tooth, look no further because my baking is the truth,’ and ‘indulge your sweet tooth with The Sweet Truth.’”
McKnight was born in Mount Vernon, New York, but has Southern roots around the Triad on her father’s side and in Alabama on her mother’s side. She moved to Thomasville when she was still in grade school, but after moved to Yonkers, New York, for eight years before she settled back in the Triad permanently in the 2000s. She has worked in the food industry all over the Triad in different positions, such as the chef of faculty dining and catering at North Carolina A&T State University, first cook at High Point Regional, a baking supervisor at Wake Forest University, and as the cafeteria manager for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County schools. She also worked at Novant Health and the Winston-Salem-based organization Veterans Helping Veterans Heal. Before working in North Carolina, she said she worked as the assistant to the director for Project Renewal’s culinary arts training program, and she started its baking program.
McKnight’s baking experience goes back to when she was 8 years old, but she said, baking as a profession and passion started in her mid-20s, while she was serving in the United States Army.
“I was a baker in the military,” she said. “I went in as a cook, but how I ended up as a baker is because something happened to me. I was sexually assaulted when I was in the military, and the sergeant that was apart of this, they put him back in the kitchen with me. So they gave me a choice to either transfer or become the night baker, and that isolated me from everybody. So I was a night baker, and that is how I got my baking skills up.”
McKnight said she finds it ironic that she took something negative that happened to her and turned it into something positive. In the age of #MeToo, she said she is an advocate and that she has been fighting for justice for the last 28 years.
“So baking is like a coping skill for me because I have PTSD,” she said. “That is how I handle a lot of my stresses when I bake…Maybe it was because of what I was going through and why I ended up being the night baker and being by myself at night, [baking] was something to pass the time away.”
She also said music has always helped her cope too. Her go-to baking music is Mary J. Blige and old school R&B from the‘80s and ‘90s. In December 2017, McKnight won second place in the Forsyth Technical Community College Launch Challenge, which according to the Forsyth Tech website, is a collaborative effort by the Emerging Entrepreneur Funds, composed of the six Winston-Salem colleges and universities— Forsyth Technical Community College, Piedmont International University, Salem College, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Wake Forest University, and Winston-Salem State University— aiming to incentivize entrepreneurship by challenging participants to successfully start their business up within six months of completing the challenge. McKnight said that when she won second place, she was awarded $15,000 to certify her home bakery and buy baking equipment.
McKnight said she went through the program with help from her mentor Jen Brown, founder of Fearless and owner of the Engaging Educator.
“The reason why I clicked with Jen is because she is from New York and she got my personality. A lot of people in the South don’t get my personality because I am kind of aggressive; like how Janelle Monáe says, ‘a little rough around the edges but keep it real smooth,” McKnight said. “She helped me with the Launch Challenge, to present myself to these Southerners. She said ‘don’t hold back, but then don’t go too far.’”
McKnight said she had to compete alongside over 20 people, follow several steps, attend various sessions and work one-on-one with Brown during the Launch Challenge. At the end of the program, McKnight said she had to present her business plan in front of an auditorium of 100 people. McKnight attributed her success to the help of her family and her determination.
“It felt really good, I cried,” she said of winning second place. “My youngest daughter was working with me then—and my daughter knows how to bake (she makes a better pie crust than I do)— she helped me with my presentation, and my niece made me a powerpoint, I started it, and she put some stuff in there.”
During those months, it wasn’t easy for McKnight. She said her husband was in hospice for cancer while she was competing in the Launch Challenge.
“Nobody knew my husband was sick, and I didn’t want anybody to know because I didn’t want it to hinder my chances,” she said. “I didn’t want them to think that ‘oh, she can’t do this because she is taking care of her husband,’ so I never told anyone.”
McKnight finally told people when she was one of the six finalists. She stayed motivated by being apart of the Launch Challenge and wanting to make her husband proud. “I knew he wanted me to keep on going. That was my motivation.”
McKnight said her husband passed away July 2017 and she won second place that December. This past year, she has also been dealing with her grandmother in hospice and her oldest daughter undergoing brain surgery.
“I have just been getting hit after hit after hit, but I think God is preparing me for other things just to see if I can handle what I am going through, what I went through,” she said remaining optimistic.
The Sweet Truth offers a variety of baked goods and pastries such as cake pops, cakes, cupcakes, granola bars, other traditional Southern desserts, gluten-free and vegan products, and her newest project, edible cookie dough.
“I do a lot of things that people don’t do, things that people don’t want to do, like cake pops because they are tedious and time-consuming,” she said of The Sweet Truth’s uniqueness from other bakeries in town. “People don’t understand that you have to charge them for your time. I want to get paid a certain amount an hour, so if you ask me to do certain custom things, you are going to have to pay me.”
She also has an edible-ink printer for designs on sheet cakes, just like the big-box stores and bakeries. Unlike most big-box stores and other bakeries, McKnight said she does not use shortener-based icing for her cakes and cupcakes. Since The Sweet Truth is a home bakery, she enjoys working on her own time, completely undisturbed.
“That is why I didn’t bake while you were here,” she said to me when I went to interview her at her home and The Sweet Truth in March. “Because I find that if I am talking to somebody and I am baking and measuring, I am going to miss something, I am going to leave something out, and I am going to mess up something. So I try not to talk to people when I am baking.”
She said she takes her business seriously, even to the point of getting water shipped in to use for baking. She takes time for mise en place and accurately measures out her ingredients. She said her usual baking shift is about four to five hours.
“I’ll bake until I get tired and then I’ll stop,” she said. “That is why I like a certified-home bakery because I can do it when I want to, no matter what time of day. I can stop and watch T.V. for a little while, I can eat, and I can get back up and do what I have to do.”
McKnight sells her baked goods at Colony Urban Farm Store and cake pops at A/perture Cinema. She has thought about moving from home bakery to storefront, but after talking it over with a colleague, she decided against it because of the stress that comes with opening and maintaining a brick-and-mortar.
“I am going to keep it how it is, and I will pick up a few more small places,” McKnight said. “I am going to take his advice and do this for a couple more years and see how it goes.”
She said she is not allowed to have signage in her yard that advertises The Sweet Truth, but it is listed in Google. She is also not allowed to have customers pick up their orders from her home; instead, she meets customers at Colony Urban Farm Store.
“If I have them meet me at Colony, nine times out of 10, they are going to spend some money while they are in Colony,” McKnight said. “Josh and Allison [owners of Colony Urban Farm Store] have been the best to me as far as letting me sell my stuff out of there, and they are not killing me on the split either, they were better than anybody here in Winston-Salem.”
McKnight said the support from her children and the motivation to keep challenging herself is what keeps her passion for baking burning.
“My oldest daughter, she is one of my biggest fans, she sends me a lot of recipes, and when we have birthday parties and anything she is throwing at her house, she will give me something I have never made before and challenge me,” she said. “I am always challenging myself.”
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.