Though there was a "closed" sign hanging on the door to NoRA Cupcake Company, people were still making their way into the store while smells of fresh-baked cake and the sound of happy chatter floated out. Inside the store smelled even better, with the scents of coffee, sweetness, and warm cupcake resting heavily in the air.
This was the scene for the grand opening (or more approriately, the "thank you") party at NoRA Cupcake Co. on Jan. 23. There were blanket invites sent out to city council people, committee members, the mayor, other important Middletown people, and everyone who had helped give NoRA a successful opening in the North End.
Besides coffee, the refreshments included Irish Car Bomb, Adult Twinkie, and Hazeulnut Cappuccino cupcakes.
Carrie Carella runs the bakery as senior managing partner of NoRA Cupcake Co., and the district supervisor of NoRA (which includes Eli Cannon's Tap Room and Trading Co.).
Phil Ouellette, owner of and NoRA addressed the crowd first. He thanked everybody and stressed that this was a "thank you," not a "grand opening party." He said that 65 years ago his dad and thousands of others stormed the beaches at Normandy to give Americans the chance to have the freedom to pursue their dreams, and have chances to open the businesses they wanted. He said Carella has been an exceptional employee, one who has worked incredibly hard.
Ouellette said that he firmly believes that hard work should meet success, and so he pushed Carella to follow her dreams of opening a cupcake bakery.
Ouellette stressed that he helped Carella so that she would help someone else who needed it, they would help someone else, and the cycle would continue down the line. Ouellette explained that this is how a neighborhood becomes a real neighborhood: by everyone helping each other out.
All the pictures on the walls of NoRA are pictures of old businesses that used to be on Main Street, which reflect the idea of the small business being the cornerstone of any thriving neighborhood. When he ended Ouellette enunciated that the whole city is in this thing together: "It's not Eli Cannon's versus Esca, it's Downtown Middletown versus Downtown West Hartford, and Downtown New Haven. (...) It's not about us, it's about all of us."
Middletown Mayor Dan Drew was blown away by NoRA: its business daring, and its attitude of neighborhoods working together to better the overall city. Mayor Drew said that Eli Cannon's was an institution in the North End that he was excited to have. Looking around the bakery, Mayor Drew commented that the location was beautiful, and he could feel the community pulse pounding through the building.
This pulse of the community obviously wasn't infused overnight, but it did happen fairly quickly. After Carrie Carella thanked everyone, including her family, construction crew, and staff, she explained the process of opening the Cupcake Company to me. The idea for the cupcake shop came around about 4-5 years ago, the timing then was wrong for several reasons.
Then, four months ago, "For Sale" signs went up across the street from Eli Cannon's Tap Room, and Carella and Ouellette met the realtors immediately. After coming up with a formal plan for NoRA, Ouellette and Carella went to the city council: who voted and supported the idea enthusiastically. They reached out to Larry McHugh, Paul Hughes and the city council, all of whom were on board for the new business in the North End. Next they contacted the fire marshal, and presented the idea to the community: who also loved the idea.
Then they finally got to work on the completely empty buildings, totally renovated them inside, and opened officially on December 31st, 2011.
Since then, Carella says that the business is excellent: growing weekly by leaps and bounds. She wants to make the bakery a cool, funky place that pushes the envelope for cupcakes. She has hired a pastry chef so there will always be something vegan on the menu, and her recent bacon cupcake proved to be unexpectedly delicious.
NoRA is special, Carella says, because it shows that the neighborhood is growing: the North End can be hip and fun. NoRA's building and products are attractive and go a long way to pull in everyone from the nearby college crowd, to people from many towns over. Eventual plans may include catering, and an assortment of other baked goods to go with the cupcake menu. Carella's favorite flavors (of recent) have been Pina Colada, and "Snowball" (a vanilla cake with white chocolate mousse, and whipped cream).
For more information on the bakery, please visit their site here. For more pictures of the event, follow this link to Jere Adametz's great photo album. If you want to know more about the CT beer scene and upcoming happenings in CT add me on Facebook, Blogger, or Twitter.