Dual passions, singular success lend caché to new eatery
For many people, this time of year is the sweetest season of them all. It’s certainly the time during which many of us eat the most sweets. But at McClintock and Guadalupe in Tempe, Sweetest Season refers not to the holidays but to a new restaurant and bakery where things beckon with mouth-watering compulsion all year round.
As with the other Sweetest Season, founded in 2016 on Apache Boulevard, the new location specializes in yummy home-baked goodies, ranging from muffins to cookies to salted caramel cinnamon rolls to raspberry pop tarts to classic-style Belgian waffles to Cardamom French toast—“the lovely, snobbier twin of the traditional recipe,” according to the menu.
But the new Sweetest Season’s from-scratch kitchen can also go to the savory end of the taste spectrum, with homemade breakfast and lunch treats like “Season’s Benedict,” a sensational approach to eggs benny, or the “Gangsta Grilled Cheese,” featuring a “super secret sauce.”
According to “completely self-taught” chef Melody Elkin, the inspiration for all this is fairly simple:
“I’ve explored all types of food, and my motivation for what kind of food I want to make is what kind of food I want to eat. But then I put my own take on it.”
Although the Colorado Springs, Colo., native had dreamed of being a chef following a long history of watching the Food Network, she landed here in the Valley for entirely non-culinary reasons.
“I came here to Tempe because I played basketball at ASU, under Charli Turner Thorne,” she says. “I would invite my teammates over and require that
they dress up. No basketball shorts, no tennis shoes.” This didn’t always go over well with a bunch of athletes, but, notes Elkin, “it was free, so they usually complied.” After finishing at ASU, she was drafted by the (now-defunct) Portland Fire WNBA team, but left after draft camp.
“Basketball is not necessarily my passion,” Elkin explains. “I was good at it, but it wasn’t my passion.” Cooking, on the other hand, was, but it would be a while before she came face to face with the entrepreneurial side of what was to be her life plan.
“I had many career paths,” she recalls. “I started off in sales for Xerox. I was a high school teacher and coach in L.A. Most recently, I was with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce.”
Somewhere in there Elkin started selling baked goods at Tempe’s Clark Park Farmers Market, and before long she was represented at several other such venues. This led to the founding, two years ago, of the first Sweetest Season.
Essential to the success of these enterprises is her husband, Todd Elkin. “He has about 20 years of restaurant management experience,” she explains. Perhaps because of his culinary know-how, he recognized her talent near the beginning of their relationship.
“We’re foodie people,” says Melody, “so when we were first dating he challenged me to a little cooking competition.
“He said, ‘you go first.’ I made him gorgonzola- encrusted lamb lollipops. When he tasted them, he threw in the towel.”