“It’s not my last day, it’s my first day of new beginnings,” Lori Duncan said, sitting at the only table left in the restaurant that had become known for the last several years as the best place in Sapulpa to get a chicken salad sandwich or chocolate-covered cakeball. Chairs were stacked against one wall, and most of the atmosphere that made the restaurant Lori’s own “Little Petticoat Junction” of the town was being hauled out the door as Lori and her family prepared to close their doors for the last time.
Lori Duncan started Lori’s Sweet Sinsations with her husband Bobby in 2006 in the Eastwood shopping center near Atwoods, where they stayed for six years until they moved to their final location at 862 W. Taft Street.
Though Lori’s parents owned restaurants, she never learned much about how to run one. She spent her time as a housewife and said that seeking a deeper walk with the Lord is what led to a stirring in her heart to start a bakery. “I told God He was going to have to work on my husband about it, too. I went to Bobby and told him about what I felt like God was leading me to do, and he said ‘let me think about this.’” Lori said his response was enough to convince her he was on board. “If he doesn’t want to do something, or doesn’t think we should, he’ll say ‘no’ flat out.”
And so they were off. Bobby said it took about six months to get started. They visited similar restaurants to see what it would be like, including Sugar Plum Tea Room & Antiques in Drumright, and another location in Oklahoma City. But nothing could’ve prepared them for the real-world experience. “We had no earthly idea what we were doing,” Bobby said. Lori said without the help of Bobby and their children, they never would’ve made it. But they had more lessons to learn.
Being on “Save My Bakery”
In 2014, a Food Network show came calling. Turns out that Kerry Vincent, the host of Save My Bakery, was looking for a few struggling bakeries in her area (she lived in Tulsa at the time) to have on her show so she wouldn’t have to do so much traveling.
“When they called us, we thought it was a joke,” Lori said, laughing. “One of my waitresses answered the phone and they started saying ‘save my bakery’ something, something, ‘okay, thanks’.” And she hung up, and said, “Lori, you’re not gonna believe this one!” When Lori realized who it had been, she said “Call them back!”
“It took us two days to get ahold of them,” Lori said, recounting the two-month process of interviews and meetings before the filming even started.
As you might think, certain things about appearing on a reality show are not all they’re cracked up to be, especially regarding how things behind the scenes are made to look on camera. “At the time, it was not pleasant,” Lori says, but she admits that it was a valuable learning experience for her as a business owner. “I definitely learned to raise my prices, and rearrange the displays.”
A particular point of conflict in the show came when the redesign of the restaurant was unveiled. Lori said she didn’t like it at first “but it grew on me. It actually matches my personality.”
To this day, Lori has never seen the show she was in. Bobby says he’s only watched it once.
Still, the episode gave the place an influx of business, and according to Bobby, it’s the restaurant that benefited most from being on the show, despite the name. “People don’t really want custom cakes here,” Bobby said. “And if they do, they want Reasor’s or Walmart prices. And a custom cake…that’s a lot of work. We just can’t compete with that.”
So Lori’s stayed with what they knew: lunches and cake balls, and the three key ingredients to a successful restaurant: “Good food, good service, good atmosphere,” Bobby says. “I believe we’ve always had all three.”
For about the last two years, Lori says they’ve been tossing up the idea to close up when the timing felt right. “We were never on the same page about it,” Lori said. “We didn’t both have peace about it,” so they stayed. When the pandemic hit, restaurants across the nation were among the hardest industries hit. It looked like it might be the thing that closed them, whether they were ready or not—but an interesting thing happened. Lori opened up a window and began serving take-out and because she didn’t have the expenses of running a dining room, her business began to boom. “I can’t say enough about our community and the way they supported us through this,” she said. Bobby added, “We haven’t been this busy since the television show.”
And then it happened. “I turned to him one day, and said ‘I think I’m ready,’ and he was, too.” And just over a month ago they made the announcement that Lori’s would be closing their doors after 14 years of serving the community. In the Facebook post where they made the announcement, they teased “New Beginnings,” and “A new story to write.”
Lori won’t divulge much detail about what she and Bobby are getting into, except to say that they’re “stepping out in faith” and that it’s going to be something “completely different.” She did say that it will be part-time and said “the public will still see me,” but she also said she likes to “do things quietly,” and so that this new venture—whatever it is—won’t be as splashy as owning a restaurant.
Lori admits that she’s not business-oriented so much as she is “heart-oriented,” and she says it’s that part she’ll miss most of all. “The relationships. I’ve never seen our business as a competition for anyone else in town. It’s always just been what we do. I enjoy loving on people, and I have been blessed with wonderful customers.”
And how does she hope her customers remember her? “‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good’—I hope they all saw Jesus in me; I hope I was the Jesus I was supposed to be.”