Downtown is one of the few places where the majority of storefronts and restaurants are owned by locals dedicated to the “live work play” lifestyle downtown Raleigh offers. So who are these people?
Way back in 2007, as one of the pioneers of Glenwood South, Sara Coleman Fitzpatrick decided to take a bet on what she describes as “the slow wake up of Downtown Raleigh”. Today, The Cupcake Shoppe is celebrating fourteen years as the original, neighborhood, go-to destination for cupcakes, and has expanded to offer custom cakes, croissants, cinnamon rolls, breakfast items, seasonal pastries as well as local Joe Van Gogh coffee. “I got in on something that would blossom and bloom into what we are seeing today; where people were living, working, and playing all in the same area.”
But back in those early days, there wasn’t much in Glenwood South except for three large anchors – Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Hibernian Pub, and 42nd Street Oyster Bar. Yet something was brewing. “I started to see a little bit of movement and interest in this area of downtown, and I was really excited to be a part of that movement and change,” says Fitzpatrick, who attended NC State and worked in corporate sales and marketing before deciding to pursue a more creative outlet with baking. “I really liked the idea of independent businesses with local owners.”
Drawn to her storefront’s spacious, beautiful windows (which ended up being the lifeline to her customers during COVID), Fitzpatrick was excited about being in an area that blended residential foot traffic with an urban feel. “I wanted to cater to people who were walking to work, heading out to their day to day lives and be ‘neighborhoody’”.
And you can’t get much more “neighborhoody” than The Cupcake Shoppe. From its beginning through recent menu additions through forced pivots during the pandemic, The Cupcake Shoppe has been the place locals can count on to get their sweet tooth satisfied. “We started primarily with cupcakes, and have kind of grown up with the neighborhood, offering what our customers are asking for, staying true to the people who have been supporting us for the past fourteen years,” says Fitzpatrick. As a local herself – Fitzpatrick, her husband, and two sons reside in Five Points – she comes by her hyper-local focus organically, and it’s been instrumental in her success. “The thing that has always drawn us and kept us in this area is the vibrancy. Not just the vibrancy of the parks and the food, but the vibrancy of the people. There is very much a sense of community; it’s the perfect combination of big-city amenities with a small-town feel. I love that we can be active and be an active part of the community we live in.”
Customer Fave: Believe it or not, it’s not a cupcake. The ooey, gooey, made from scratch cinnamon rolls have a local cult following.
Key To Success: We have not tried to become so big. I never went in thinking to franchise. We’ve honed in and focused on a handful of things and do them better than everybody else, such as using high-end ingredients and everything being scratch-made.
Surviving A Pandemic: We focused on our core principle – a superior product to help people celebrate. We couldn’t celebrate in the big ways but we knew people were looking to celebrate in the small ways. We asked “How can we help in the small ways and support the community that has supported us this entire time? What do our friends and neighbors want?” We knew that our customers still wanted to do something for their moms on Mother’s Day, a sister across town for a birthday and grandparents wanted to celebrate Easter for their grandchildren. We pivoted to incorporate delivery and front porch drop off.
And Those Beautiful Windows? We had replaced the original windows with retractable windows to provide a little bit of an al a fresco experience. It was dumb luck to put them in pre-pandemic because they were our lifeline. We could safely serve our customers curbside and keep our employees safe.
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