It was a Wednesday afternoon, just days before the holiday weekend, and final preparations were being made for what the owners of Spooky’s Swirls Bakery in Chandler call “the biggest day of the year.”
This wasn’t Santa’s workshop and it wasn’t a countdown to Thanksgiving either. It was less than a week until Halloween, and Lola Forbes and Chris Szydlowski were busy baking as many terrifyingly sweet treats as they could fit in the oven at their bakery and the Horror and SciFi Prop Museum (more on the spooky-sweet combination later).
Szydlowski answered the door in a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the classic horror movie “Carrie” (1976), and upbeat music blared from the shop where Halloween decorations covered every surface and the delicious aroma of freshly baked cupcakes from the oven filled the store.
Although the shop is only open on weekends, before major holidays, chefs and owners Szydlowski and Forbes spend an entire week preparing baked goods. “That’s what makes Halloween happen,” Forbes said, pointing to a can of Swedish fish-flavored energy drink.
When doing Christmas, Spooky’s leans heavily on themes from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). For Valentine’s Day, Forbes and Szydlowski bring in famous couples from horror movies and films like “My Bloody Valentine” (1981), for those who enjoy a bit of a fright with their romance.
Despite the ghoulish decor and gothic sweets, Spooky’s Swirls Bakery isn’t exclusive to Halloween. In fact, its busiest holiday season lasts from October through Valentine’s Day, according to Forbes, and the bakery and museum are open year-round from Friday to Sunday.
And aside from horror buffs, their biggest fan base is actually the gluten-free community, especially around Thanksgiving, when people fill up on pumpkin rolls, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and the all-purpose flour. Spooky’s All Purpose Gluten.
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Unlike many gluten-free chefs, Forbes and Szydlowski do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Forbes said she started making her own gluten-free recipes when she was executive pastry chef at Kaleidoscope.
“I love science,” he said. “I got a job where I had to start making things gluten-free and they didn’t give me recipes. And I built that into a big, successful bakery. It was fun because I couldn’t use recipes, I had to figure out my own.”
When Forbes partnered with Szydlowski to open Spooky’s Swirls, the pair were eager to fill their community’s need for gluten-free foods that tasted just as good, if not better, than traditional versions.
“We did a lot of research. We did a lot of taste tests,” Szydlowski said. “And I’m very humble, but I have to say that some of (the gluten-free food) we tried wasn’t really all of that.”
Before the bakery put down roots in Chandler in August 2019, Spooky’s Swirls operated as a food truck for about two years. But Forbes said the business quickly outgrew the truck, and the need for a brick-and-mortar store and kitchen became increasingly apparent.
And with a brick and mortar came a unique opportunity to unite two very different passions.
A paradise for horror film history.
Horror fans can greatly thank Szydlowski and his friend James Azrael of the Science Fiction and Horror Preservation Association for the haven that is Spooky’s Swirls Museum. The HSPPA is a non-profit organization run by Azrael, Szydlowski and his friend Craig Champion with the goal of preserving, restoring and exhibiting iconic pieces of film history.
Szydlowski became interested in collecting movie props as a child, saying much of what is on display at Spooky’s Swirls comes from her own personal collection. The idea of opening a horror museum inside the bakery arose when she met Azrael.
“When we were trucking food, he saw the cupcakes and said, ‘You know what, I have this idea. It might be the craziest thing, but I want a museum. You want a bakery, brick and mortar. Maybe put these two ideas together and see what happens,'” Szydlowski said.
The museum is completely free, but visitors are welcome to leave a donation. Thanks to donations, Spooky’s Swirls has been able to preserve and restore various costumes and props from beloved scary movies. More recently, a burlap sack used for the head of the character Sam in the movie “Trick ‘r Treat” (2007) was sent to a design studio in New York, where it was filled and a bust was created for the character. could be added to the museum for display.
“That’s something we’re pretty proud of, that we were able to do that … thanks to our customers and donations,” Szydlowski said.
His first few months of business were busy, Forbes said, especially with signatures at the stores of celebrities like Paul Taylor from the movie “Hellraiser” (1987) and Tamara Glynn from “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” (1989). But like many other local businesses, Spooky’s Swirls Bakery struggled to stay afloat during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bakery closed entirely for a short time in 2020, then reopened to provide curbside service only.
“The gluten-free crowd really got us through the pandemic,” Szydlowski said.
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Spooky’s Swirls is known for its themed cupcakes, most notably the Strawberry Suspiria, Red Velvet with “Scream Cheese,” and Binx Chocolate Mousse, as well as its monster chocolate chip cookies. Pumpkin rolls and cinnamon buns are popular seasonal offerings. And Forbes prides itself on the fact that they don’t spend money on marketing; instead, she and Szydlowski owe much of their business to word-of-mouth recommendations from gluten-free customers and horror fans alike.
“Gluten-free people talk more than almost any other community I’ve ever been to,” Forbes said. “I almost prefer it that way. I don’t have to tell people how good the cupcakes are, they just tell each other.”
Spooky’s Swirls received national attention recently when Forbes was featured on Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championships” in September. He said that he suspects that the volume of clients has increased since his appearance on television.
But while it’s fun to make TV judges cringe at terrifying toenail-shaped desserts, Forbes said she prefers to bake for Valley residents who make their hard work at Spooky’s Swirls worth it.
“I went on the Food Network because I thought it was going to make my dreams come true,” Forbes said. “But I didn’t need to go on the Food Network. I feel like Dorothy, you know. I left to do something big, but all I had to do was click my heels. I was here the whole time.”
Spooky’s Swirls Gluten Free Bakery is open every Friday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and many desserts are available to pre-order online.
Details: 3029 N. Alma School Road, Suite 117, Chandler. 707-776-6597. https://www.spookysswirls.com.
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