Sweet Caroline’s Cupcakery hits the spot in Salyersville
By Jen Calhoun
Betty Carol Barnett sounds as surprised as anyone when she talks about how she went from a stay-at-home mom in Texas to the owner of a popular Kentucky restaurant in less than a year. “It kind of feels like a dream sometimes,” says Barnett, who opened Sweet Caroline’s Cupcakery in Salyersville in November. “I think, ‘Is this for real?’?
But there’s no need to pinch Barnett. Chances are, she’s already awake, working and living out her dreams. “That’s probably been one of the biggest changes,” she says. “I probably work about 18 hours a day most days.”
A baker’s beginnings
It all got started a few years back when Barnett, a Salyersville native, was living in the Houston area with her husband and her youngest son Seth, who suffered from cerebral palsy. “My youngest son was disabled, and I didn’t work because I wanted to stay home with him,” she says.
She had dabbled in baking cakes but didn’t grow serious until James Rosselle, a New York City baker who gained fame on the Food Network, started offering classes in Houston. “I really just wanted to make my son a cake for his birthday,” she says. “I ended up taking nine courses in cake decorating.”
But when Seth contracted pneumonia in 2016 and died, Barnett’s life changed directions. She moved back home to Salyersville to be near family. During that time, she kept busy by making cakes and cupcakes for friends. It wasn’t long before her friend and local businesswoman, Kathy Bailey, suggested Barnett open a bakery.
The thought surprised Barnett, but it also didn’t leave her mind. “I thought about it that night,” she says. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should do something like that.’” In August 2018, she and Bailey started renovating a space in a shopping center on East Mountain Parkway. Three months later, she was in business with a cupcakery named after her then 2-year-old granddaughter, Adalie Caroline Barnett.
From baked goods to more foods
The idea for a bakery quickly morphed into more for Barnett when her friends started offering input. “I had planned on just doing cupcakes and birthday cakes, but some of my friends, including Bailey, said, ‘You should do some soups and sandwiches, too.’ I said, ‘OK,’” she says.
Besides, it was winter in Salyersville and her guests kept asking for beans and cornbread. “I was like, ‘This is a bakery!’” Barnett says with a laugh. Soon, the menu grew from cupcakes and cornbread to cheeseburgers and fries, soups and salads. Now, she even offers a daily special that runs from turkey and stuffing, to goulash and meatloaf.
Growing up, she learned to cook from her grandmother. While raising her sons, she had made huge feasts for a full house of hungry boys and their friends. But running a busy restaurant brought new challenges for the hardworking Barnett. She hadn’t expected how hungry residents would be for a new restaurant. “When I first announced on Facebook that I was opening, I couldn’t believe the response,” she says. “People kept writing, ‘This is just what we need.’ People would send me private messages that would make me cry.”
When the crowds came, she even feared she’d taken on too much. “It was hard in the beginning when I opened,” Barnett says. “I wanted to do it all myself — the shopping, the cleaning, the paperwork. I remember calling my husband and telling him I couldn’t do it. I told him I was worked to death. It was just too much, and I wasn’t getting to see my family. But he said, ‘Just go outside and take a breath. Remember why you started it, and remember that you can quit anytime you want.’”
Since then, Barnett says she’s learned to delegate to her employees while still finding time to do most of the baking and soup-making herself. Another woman stops by to make the shop’s popular Amish wedding cakes.
Barnett says she’s happy she didn’t give in when times got rough. “I love when the little kids come in and we give them birthday cupcakes and a balloon,” she says. “I love the way it always smells so good in here. My house is so messy, but then I always think, ‘Once I clean, then what would I do from there?’ I might miss working on my house and going to the mall, but I just like this better.”