For Chawan Bridgers, known to her friends and family as Shy, it all started with a reaction. When her boyfriend requested banana pudding, she bought a box mix from the grocery store to keep things simple, but when she started preparing it, something in her mind told her to pause.
“I thought, ‘If I ate this, what would I want with it?’” Bridgers says. “So, I put pound cake in it.”
When she heard her boyfriend’s praise, she decided she really wanted to learn how to make the pudding herself, as well as how to keep listening to that instinct when experimenting with other flavors and textures.
She tested new banana pudding recipes on her family and friends, waiting for the reaction that meant she had figured it out. In 2019, she brought a version of the recipe to her sister’s place in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“If I could impress the Southerners, I’m good,” she says. “I made it, and everybody was floored.”
Her sister told her to create an Instagram page, which Bridgers initially shrugged off. She went back home to D.C. and played around with the recipe even more, until one day her boyfriend said, “Stop. This is it. It’s perfect.”
The support from the people around her pushed Bridgers to the next step: the pop-up scene. And after the banana pudding did so well at different markets, she expanded her inventory. She listened to that instinct, tweaking classic recipes to make something new: strawberry lemonade cookies, cinnamon rolls with a caramel pecan sauce, and blueberry lemonade blondies, to name a few.
In response to how she thinks of these combinations, she said, “I want to say I have a great palette, but I don’t think I do. I think I’m just greedy.”
At the end of 2019, she got her own logo. In 2020, it was trademarked. She developed a following at different pop-ups around the city. At one of her first at Soufside Market, a long line of people waited to try her desserts. She turned around to ask her friend for refills, and he informed her there was nothing left.
“I was shocked,” Bridgers says. “In my mind, thinking, ‘It’s just little ol’ me.’”
Now she almost always sells out, and has returning customers who will buy 4-6 banana puddings at a time to tide them over until the next market. The stockpiling is understandable. For her perfected recipe, Bridgers layers the pudding in a mason jar: a cookie on top, then pudding, homemade banana blondie, more pudding, and more blondie at the bottom.
“This is not anything that I set out to do,” Bridgers says. “It just kind of accidentally happened.”
But still, she bakes. The positive reactions from her boyfriend, sister, family, and customers at pop-ups solidified that she found something special. She hopes one day to have a brick-and-mortar shop, but for now you can find her at different pop-ups around D.C. — most recently, National Landing Market.
She keeps experimenting, adding new desserts to the menu. “Walkable desserts,” she calls them.
“You leave the shop, walk around the market, take a spoon, and start eating what you bought.”
Some of her new additions include apple cinnamon rolls, banana cheesecake pudding, and banana pudding cinnamon rolls, which she advertises on her Instagram.
Bridgers’s baked goods are all available on her website and Instagram for local pickup. And as for her booth at the National Landing Market, she’ll be ready to serve customers new and returning on June 5, and looks forward to the reactions that got her started in the first place.
“To me, it’s chemistry. There’s nothing better than the close-your-eyes reaction, like, ‘Are you serious, did this just happen?’ I’m like, yes. You just had a Sweets by Shy experience.”
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