All the best ideas are at least partially stolen from someone else. Steve Jobs built a multi-billion dollar empire off of personal computing technology he first saw at Xerox. Google’s Android platform borrowed from so many existing systems that it was at one time involved in almost 40 separate patent lawsuits. Zuckerberg copped the idea for Facebook from those freakishly large, perpetually rowing twins.
The story is (more or less) the same for Niki Novak and Sweet N Nasty, the sex-themed cake and chocolate shop she brought to Boston in 1981.
Novak had just graduated from college and was bartending at Faneuil Hall when she took a weekend off to visit her sister in New York City. During the trip, the siblings stopped by an erotic bakery where her sister had recently purchased a penis-shaped cake for the office. The dessert dong had been a huge hit with her coworkers, and she wanted to get another one.
The only problem? It wasn’t any good. At all.
“The cake was very expensive and it tasted like cardboard,” Novak recalls. “I asked my sister, ‘Why are you getting another one?’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s a penis.’”
Novak, who studied retail merchandising in college, realized that this was a tremendous business opportunity. If women were going out of their way to buy phallic cakes that tasted awful, she reasoned that they would turn up in droves for XXX baked goods that were also delicious. Sure, sex sells just fine on its own, but sex combined with sugar, flour and chocolate should practically fly off the shelf.
“I wasn’t much of a baker when I started,” she admits. “But I thought there had to be a better way to do this. I can make chocolates, and I can make a cake that actually tastes good.”
Upon her return to Boston, Novak started laying out the groundwork for her new business. But while a trip to a sex shop like Newbury Street’s Condom World is practically a rite of passage for the student population of Boston in 2014, adult stores were few and far between when Sweet N Nasty first opened its doors. Novak felt she had plenty of support from community members, as well as her family and friends, but when it came down to founding the business – securing a loan, finding a storefront – she faced resistance in every direction.
“It was almost like building a prison – everybody wanted one, but nobody wanted to live near it,” she recalls. “We had to be careful about the neighborhood. Landlords were very hard to find.”
When the shop finally did open, Novak and her staff had to fight to convince people that this was all in good fun. The taboo nature of Sweet N Nasty’s wares meant that getting the word out about her new venture wasn’t easy; the gatekeepers at many Boson-area publications weren’t comfortable advertising what they saw as a seedy sex shop in their pages. (“They wanted to put us in the back with the 900 numbers,” Novak says.)
But buying a penis-shaped piece of chocolate isn’t a deviant act, and Novak and her employees worked hard to dispel the notion that there was anything inherently dirty about purchasing a cake with enormous boobs on it. They tried to make Sweet N Nasty as welcoming as possible by decking the shop out in pink and purple. They kept some of the more suggestive items out of view, available by request only, lest they offend some of their more sensitive patrons.
“Now, you don’t have to ask us about anything,” Novak quips. “If you don’t see it, we don’t have it.”
Transparency isn’t the only change the shop has seen over the last 30 years.
“When the store first opened, I was it. I took your order, baked your cake, frosted your cake, and delivered your cake,” she declares, “but not anymore. I certainly don’t get up that early.”
Luckily, having a storefront in Boston’s Back Bay has made it easy to find talented help. With so many colleges and universities in the area, there has never been a shortage of dedicated art and culinary students eager to bake and decorate sugary sex organs.
In addition to her loyal staff, Novak is lucky enough to have a stream of dedicated customers who keep her business in the black. Holidays are always a huge draw – she refers to Valentine’s Day as the shop’s Super Bowl – and Sweet N Nasty’s windows are constantly updated with goofy slogans that reflect upcoming occasions. Staff members have even found a way to work Mother’s Day into the mix.
Unsurprisingly, bachelorette parties also account for a good deal of the store’s business.
“The bachelorettes have taken over the world!” Novak laughs. “They organize, they pool their money, and they plan ahead. Men will come in at the last minute if the party’s that night – ‘do you have a cake and a blow up doll?’ But women are our biggest customers.”
At the end of the day, Novak is just happy that her quirky business has found a lasting home among Boston’s bars and brownstones.
“In the beginning I always wondered how long this could last,” she says. “But then I realized: It’s going to last as long as people wear clothes.”
And as for those old concerns about a sexy chocolate shop bringing a bad element to the neighborhood? Thinking about it now, Novak smiles and starts to reminisce about her diverse and delightful clientele: students, husbands, wives – even mothers who stop in with their daughters to show off their old college haunt.
“The people we get in here are very normal, nice people,” she affirms. “I’d say a gym gets more perverts than we do.”