By Robyn Githui
Sweet 27 has been a staple in the Remington neighborhood for over eight years. When I arrived at the café on West 27th Street, the bright orange and yellow exterior stood out in this otherwise residential area. Over the years, the funky exterior colors have changed, but the overall atmosphere has not. Although Sweet 27 is mainly known for its eclectic, gluten-free menu, its employee-friendly practices and community-first philosophy also set it apart.
Sweet 27’s dedication to employees and community is a reflection of its history. Sweet 27 started out as Meet 27 under former owner Richard D’Souza, who started the restaurant, as well as an adjoining bakery/café that share’s the restaurant’s name, to help meet the needs of people with dietary restrictions. All of the food is gluten-free, and many items on the menu are soy and dairy-free as well, making it one of the most diet-inclusive establishments in the city.
When I first met Suraj Bhatt, the current owner of Sweet 27, he was warm, welcoming, and in the midst of running the business’ day-to-day operations. When Bhatt first started working as a cashier at Sweet 27, he did not know that he would become a partner and eventual owner of one of Baltimore’s most interesting restaurants in less than a decade. Like D’Souza, Bhatt allows his employees to try and take on different roles in the business, like one server who is learning how to do some of the managerial work. He also encourages his workers to perfect their skills outside of work, through school and nearby English classes at Strong City Baltimore’s Adult Learning Center. Following in D’Souza’s footsteps, Bhatt supports his employees by giving them the time and opportunities to grow. He understands that many of his employees won’t work with him forever, and that is OK. Bhatt’s employee-friendly business model has attracted a lot of attention, and Sweet 27 will be recognized in Civic Works’ upcoming Good Business Works initiative, which highlights local businesses for their commitment to high-quality workforce practices.
During my time at the café, Bhatt greeted all of the customers who came in and expressed an enormous amount of gratitude for the Remington community, which he credits for the establishment’s success. Sweet 27 is known for its easygoing atmosphere, but it has gone through its share of challenges, including the change in ownership. Despite this, Bhatt focuses on positivity and insists that “Everything goes in a circle.” The customers and employees support Sweet 27, so Sweet 27 supports and helps uplift them. It’s mutually beneficial, and everyone benefits from their place in the community.
Sweet 27 supports its community in a couple of ways. Sweet 27 hosts fundraisers as a fun way to help people and build community. (It has hosted Strong City Baltimore fundraisers in the past, including a recent one to benefit the 29th Street Community Center.) It’s not always easy for smaller, local businesses to donate money, but Bhatt recognizes that the community fuels his business and that it is important to give back in some way. Anyone is welcome to inquire about having a fundraiser at the eatery.
Another way that Sweet 27 supports its community is by championing cultural awareness and inclusivity, through its menu and its values. Last year, Sweet 27, along with a few other Baltimore-area restaurants, participated in “A Day Without Immigrants.” The day was a part of the broader movement demanding fair and inclusive immigration policies. The decision to close was a collective one. Many of Sweet 27’s employees and customers are immigrants, and they were inspired to participate as a way to show solidarity and support for immigrant rights.
Strong City Baltimore’s neighborhood work embraces community wealth building, an approach to economic development that puts residents and communities first, valuing equity, inclusion, and sustainability. One way that that we support community wealth building in Baltimore is by spotlighting exemplary businesses that are making their communities better. For more information about Strong City’s community wealth building philosophy, click here.