Sweet space: Sweethaus cupcakery moves west on Main
Tara Koenig and her husband Billy recall feeling uninspired when they first explored the new space their business Sweethaus would occupy. Nonetheless, about a week ago, the popular cupcake and candy shop officially made the move from the far east corner of West Main Street, beside Random Row Books, to the former Charlottesville Tire building at 843 West Main, just past the bridge.
"It was too big, too dirty," remembers Koenig, "just not the right kind of space."
But then one day they turned around and gazed out at a beautiful view of Carter Mountain. And the surrounding asphalt lot, still being used for monthly parkers, contributed dozens of potential customers each morning right between UVA and the Downtown Mall. Suddenly, they had a vision.
A former restaurant manager who lived in New York City, Tara says she would dream as she walked by Magnolia on Bleeker Street, the shop widely credited with starting the cupcake craze. A career in wine sales led her to Charlottesville and then to the original space by Random Row where a friend, photographer Cat Thrasher, had a studio.
Tara knew from the beginning that her days were numbered at the old location, where plans to build a seven-story Marriott Residence Inn would consume hers and other businesses. But the cheap rent allowed her to launch on a shoestring and build a brand.
Now, Billy, formerly the tasting room manager at Trump Vineyard, has joined the venture. Today, while the space isn't yet completely renovated (most of of the dirty work– and there was a lot of it– was done by Tara and Billy themselves), it's hard to believe it was ever a tire shop.
There's a colorful coffee bar with display case, a small retail area (they sell Sweethaus brand t-shirts, cards, etc.), a big picture window where one can peer into the large kitchen (the old space didn't have a room for a kitchen). Even the old mechanics' bay is getting transformed into a light-filled sitting, play, and party space.
The Koenigs hope the new location will make parents, children, and students feel comfortable hanging out. They even plan to launch curbside service. Just roll up and there will be someone there to take an order for sweet treats and Shenandoah Joe coffee. Tara runs the whole business on an iPad.
"We think about things from a parent's perspective," says Tara,"how can we make things more convenient?"
As for Sweethaus' particular aesthetic, which includes fanciful coloring and, overhead, a home-made candy chandelier, Tara says it sometimes comes from a special source: her young daughter.
"It's all meant to be alluring to kids, but it seems to attract everyone," says Tara. "Kids love the chandelier, but so do adults. Maybe it reminds them of their own childhoods."
Cake and candy? Oh, yeah, we remember!