MIDDLETOWN — Since opening on New Year's Eve in 2011, NoRA Cupcake Co. has gone from a few employees to more than 30, opened a second shop and is considering a third, and is opening a new kitchen to keep up with demand, which has quadrupled since the first year.
The bakery has signed a lease agreement with the city of Middletown and will build a kitchen in 5,000 square feet at the city-owned Remington Rand building on Johnson Street, just a half mile from its home at 700 Main St.
"Right now we've completely outgrown our current space," said owner Carrie Carella. "We're going to be keeping our retail store, but we just need more space to create."
The recent addition of a new shop in Blue Back Square in West Hartford and increasing catering orders have become too much for the 200-square-foot kitchen, she said.
"We have a lot of exciting growth," Carella told city council members last week. "We just opened a second store in West Hartford and it's actually driven more business to our Middletown location."
Carella declined to discuss any financial details of the business.
The recent success has the business looking at a possible third location, and Carella said NoRA Cupcake will soon begin baking and selling cookies.
Carella caters weddings, hosts local youth programs, supplies dessert menus for some of the area's most popular restaurants and has made the bakery's signature pink and black van a fixture at farmers markets.
The NoRA truck is the first interaction most people have with the business. It makes a statement even driving on the highway to or from its destination, and accounts for about 20 percent of sales during peak season.
Both the Middletown and West Hartford stores get 300 to 400 walk-in transactions on a typical Saturday. People stop in all day to pick up treats, starting at $4.95 each.
"This is such a great success story for Middletown," said Councilman Gerald Daley, chairman of the council's economic development committee. "It has drawn a lot of positive attention to Middletown."
The council unanimously approved leasing space to NoRA, and council members complimented the success of the business and its contributions to local charities and youth programs.
Bakery and catering director Kim Eardley said the flavors reach the final menu after a collaborative test from the staff. The endless frosting, filling and cake combinations make a robust menu that changes regularly, she said.
"People love our creativity, the fact that we have such a huge menu and keep growing our menu," Eardley said. "We try to keep people in touch with our daily creations with our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It's great to see people get excited for the things we get excited about."
Celebrity chef Rachael Ray tried a NoRA cupcake and cookie brought on her show March 8 by YouTube star and TV food critic Daymon Patterson, a New Britain resident known for his "Daym Drops" food reviews.
NoRA Cupcake started as a sort of little sister to Eli Cannon's Tap Room, a popular venue for more than 20 years with a unique menu and extensive craft beer list well known throughout the region. Carella was a manager at Eli's for years, and she and Eli Cannon's owner, Phil Ouellette, decided to take a risk on her passion for baking.
They opened the bakery across the street from the restaurant after imported furniture shop Little Tibet closed its cavernous store. At first, NoRA Cupcake was paired up with the Eli Cannon's Trading Co., which sold merchandise, hot sauces and other items.
NoRA's fame quickly outpaced its big brother's, and the cupcake shop took over both storefronts — connected in the middle — to open a dessert dining room stocked from floor to ceiling with the signature overdecorated style Eli Cannon's customers have come to love.
The name of the shop stands for North of Rapallo Avenue, a moniker crafted to advocate the pride business owners and residents have in Middletown's North End despite its long history of being an afterthought.
North Enders, sick of being unfairly known of as a black mark on Main Street's reputation, celebrate their diverse residents, successful businesses and vibrant Macdonough Elementary School. They have community organizers in the North End Action Team and an annual schedule of events to draw people in and change their minds about what the North End is.
NoRA Cupcake and Eli Cannon's, with neighboring artisan pizza and bourbon shop Krust, have made the NoRA district a popular hangout.
"It's really awesome to see the North End is now a destination where people want to come and spend their time," Eardley said.
The Remington Rand building is owned and operated by the city as a small business incubator, and is part of the North of Rapallo Avenue neighborhood.
Ouellette called himself the "official sherpa guide for NoRA Cupcake" at the March 7 city council meeting. He said Carella found expansion opportunities in Hartford and New Britain but wanted to stay in Middletown where her business has thrived.
"I told her if I'm going to continue to be your sherpa, base camp has to be in Middletown no matter what," Ouellette said.
He said the rebranding of the neighborhood a few years ago was aimed at boosting the success of the cluster of businesses there, but despite some early resistance the move has been embraced by residents.
"You can't have one without the other," Ouellette said. "The businesses are as reliant on the dynamic of the neighborhood as the residents. Neighborhoods are built first, and then the businesses come."
Eardley and Carella said they think NoRA Cupcake owes much of its success to being able to start and grow in the North End of Middletown.
"It feels good that the community we love so much loves us back, and we're happy to continue growing in Middletown," Carella said.