Downtown New Haven gets sweeter with a new cupcake shop
(7/16/2013) New Haven Register - Hours after Sweet Mary’s bakery closes every night, Missy Antonelli is still in the shop—blending, frosting and preparing for the next morning’s fresh batch of customers.
And while the owner and baker for the Court Street shop, averages a minimum of 80 hours of work a week, she has no complaints.
“It’s a much different feeling when you’re working for yourself, I’m working longer and harder but it doesn’t feel like it,” she said.
The East Haven native is one of the newest entrepreneurs to venture into the city’s growing food industry downtown. Her bakery, now about two months old, is drawing fans among sweet tooth locals and visitors.
Eating and drinking establishments account for 44 percent of businesses in downtown, according to the Town Green District’s 2013 Retail Snapshot. That statistic doesn’t include bodegas or grocery-like stores, but only places with available sit-down dining, said Winfield Davis IV, executive director of Town Green.
Town Green is a data collection and business improvement district agency funded by property taxes. The district has only collected data for 18 months but has seen a 4 percent increase in the prevalence of restaurant and drinking establishments since 2012.
While franchise giants such as Chipotle revive vacant corners of the city, independently owned establishments like Antonelli’s have their own niche.
“Their cupcakes are really good, word spreads, this is a foody town,” Davis said of Sweet Mary’s already growing buzz.
For Antonelli, her decision to open up shop downtown extends far beyond a desire to join the “foody town.” Sweet Mary’s is a tribute to Antonelli’s grandparents, Silvio and Mary, who lived on Academy Street and owned a restaurant on Wooster Street in the 50s.
“It’s part of the Italian culture that the family means so much to you, which is why I did it to kind of honor them and the fact that they were New Haven residents their whole lives,” she said.
Quality is what gives Sweet Mary’s a fighting chance in a booming industry, according to Kelly Murphy, economic development administrator for the city.
“You’ve got to put out really good food since there are so many options here,” Murphy.
The surge of food-based establishments in downtown is the result of a surge in residents and development in the area, she said. During her seven years in the city, Murphy said, more than $2.5 billion has been invested in development projects. Other areas such as Whalley Avenue are also witnessing an uptick in the food industry as a result of development, she said. Between 2008 and 2012, the New Haven Health Department licensed 22 new food establishments citywide.
But food establishments have a strong audience in an area like downtown where 90,000 people are employed within 1.5 miles of the Chapel and Temple Street intersection, according to the Town Green agency. So in addition to residents frequenting shops, people who are working downtown often grab dinner, special desserts or happy hour, Davis said.
“The more growth, the more businesses and the more walkers you see,” Murphy said. “Employees, they’re here at the end of the day, they want to eat, they want to shop.”
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