The owner of Glenwood South’s Cupcake Shoppe has the business of sweet treats all figured out.
Glenwood South has seen the rise of many an entrepreneur over the years, but none quite like the Cupcake Shoppe’s Sara Coleman Fitzpatrick.
Just a decade ago, Fitzpatrick, an NC State graduate, was working for Johnson & Johnson, living between Florida and Georgia and traveling constantly to New York City for work. She baked to balance the chaos of her corporate career and dreamed of moving back to Raleigh.
One day when she was visiting town, Fitzpatrick saw a little shop with windows that opened out onto the Glenwood South sidewalk. She envisioned the “what could be” for the empty storefront—a warm, walkable gathering place for the neighborhood nearby, where lasting friendships could be born.
Fitzpatrick signed the lease.
Fast forward ten years and that “what could be” is now Fitzpatrick’s everyday reality. The Cupcake Shoppe welcomes all into its sweet space with light pink-painted walls, marble countertops, an antique cash register, cozy booths and fun light fixtures. Guests hunker down to work over coffee, cupcakes and savory bites, or they meet their friends there and celebrate life’s special occasions.
It’s been a challenging business at times, as Fitzpatrick will plainly tell you. In the Shoppe’s early days, guests would find Fitzpatrick smiling behind a tablecloth-topped table with a cupcake stand, offering samples and handing out business cards, serving as the store’s accountant, janitor, baker, event coordinator, marketing manager and more.
“When you’re first starting out, everything seems like it’s a big deal,” Fitzpatrick says. “Every negative comment, staffing issues, all the road bumps you encounter all seem so difficult.”
But where local and national chains in Raleigh have shuttered their doors—think Sprinkles, Crumbs, Gigi’s and locally owned Sugarland, which filed for bankruptcy last year—the Cupcake Shoppe has thrived and grown into one of the city’s premier bakeries, ready to provide a baked-from-scratch treat to the guest on the go or to cater at weddings serving cupcakes by the hundreds.
“It’s taken a very calculated approach on how to adjust to the market,” Fitzpatrick says. “Stay true to what you do and to your market. Do what you do and do it really well, stay current and relevant and have a plan of where you’re going.”
Fitzpatrick credits her business’s success with its ability to adapt. As dietary fads and restrictions became more marked among consumers, The Cupcake Shoppe reacted accordingly, offering a variety of dietary options—vegan, dairy- and gluten-free—as well as adding savory and sweet breakfast pastry options to the menu. There’s been a shift in the kinds of experiences consumers are seeking nowadays, too. In the past, everyone wanted elaborate options, where more was more, Fitzpatrick says. Now, they want more personalized experiences and variety.
These days, Fitzpatrick is in direct competition with everyone from out-of-state grocery chains to food trucks serving cupcakes on the go. But her classic branding, charitable focus and the niche she’s carved out in the local wedding industry means she’s found a way for the Cupcake Shoppe to come out on top.
Fitzpatrick says over the years she’s learned how to clearly communicate her expectations to staff and hires people with like-minded vision. She says she works to empower her staffers based on their strengths and skills, and she always rewards her team for jobs well done.
“While I love being an entrepreneur,” Fitzpatrick says, “it isn’t for everyone. Owning your own business can be glamorized, especially when it’s a pretty pink cake shop. You get what you work for, not what you wish for.”
But Fitzpatrick says she likes being able to set her own schedule, being her own boss and using her creative talents. Also, getting to taste cupcakes on a daily basis—for quality control purposes, of course—definitely doesn’t hurt.
Fitzpatrick’s Personal Favorites:
Pastry: Cinnamon Roll
Cupcake: Pretty in Pink
Martin is the executive director of Shop Local Raleigh/Greater Raleigh Merchants Association.