A tiny cupcake shop in Santee is in the business of spreading sweetness but, today, during the darker days of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the shop’s devoted customers who are offering sweet strength and support.
“They’re calling in a lot, saying and showing us, ‘We’re here to support your business; we want to help,’” said Yvette Nolta, co-owner of The Cupcake Store.
Nolta runs The Cupcake Store on Carlton Hills Boulevard with her mom, Anne Montgomery. They’ve been in business for eight years and Nolta said they’ve always felt the love and support from Santee but now, in these difficult times, it somehow feels even greater.
The shop is small, with no seating inside – just a lobby area with a display case showcasing the fluffy, colorful, gourmet treats. Because of the shop’s size, it can get easily crowded when there’s a line of customers waiting to pick out their cupcakes. There are usually a couple of tables outside, on the sidewalk, where patrons can eat.
Last week, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom and local leaders ordered restaurants to temporarily close their dining rooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Nolta said The Cupcake Shop made some changes.
They removed the outdoor seating and decided they would try offering curbside pickup to customers.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Nolta said customers would often call in their orders and pick up their cupcakes at the counter. Now, to better follow social distancing guidelines and keep people from going inside the store, the cupcakes are delivered right to a customer’s car.
Nolta said, so far, curbside cupcakes are going well. She thinks she and her mom will continue to offer this service post-pandemic, too.
And, while one might not necessarily consider cupcakes an “essential” right now, Nolta said business is solid and the customers keep coming.
“We knew we’d take a hit, but this is a tight-knit community, so it hasn’t been the hit we were expecting,” she explained. “I don’t see us closing down because of the way we’re set up.”
The support from Santee and neighboring communities has been emotionally overwhelming.
So much so that Nolta’s mom has taken to social media platforms like NextDoor and Facebook to simply say, “Thank You.”
“A simple thank you seems so inadequate,” Montgomery wrote on a NextDoor post on Tuesday. “Yesterday, at The Cupcake Store, happy tears came to my eyes several times. The encouraging words and support from Santeeites and surrounding communities was, at times, overwhelming.”
Montgomery said customers are proving there’s plenty of kindness to go around, even in times of uncertainty.
“We had customers from Decanso, Jamul, Julian, Rancho Bernardo, & Chula Vista, also. The heartfelt humanity of a generous heart was evident as 5 customers ‘paid it forward’ for the next 5 guests, and 2 of those paid it forward,” Montgomery’s post continued. “The curbside service was appreciated by several of our guests. Social distance was practiced by everyone, even the children. Yvette and I, and our entire staff say THANK YOU.”
Many customers replied to Montgomery’s NextDoor note, saying they’re here to support the shop for all the times the store has been there for them.
“Your store is an important part of the community,” one customer wrote. “How many birthdays have been celebrated with your cupcakes? How many times have you donated to help charities? Thank you, Anne. The community cares.”
“It’s just been so heartwarming,” Nolta added.
As she decorated a cake and took phone orders, Nolta told NBC 7 she feels like her store is even getting some new customers – people who’ve heard about the shop in recent days through social media.
She thinks she knows why they’re gravitating to The Cupcake Store, too.
“Everyone needs to eat something happy right now,” she said.
Nolta, Montgomery and their family have lived in Santee since 1975. For them, it really is home. It’s where the heart is – and where the hope is.
“This community is so helpful to one another – even before all of this,” said Nolta. “We’re a tight-knit community and we will get through this.”
The Cupcake Shop is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The shop is normally closed on Sunday and, for now, they are also closed on Wednesday.
Nolta said they have six employees – including her and Montgomery – and they all work different shifts to give one another the proper social distance.
The shop rotates its cupcake flavors each week and posts the menu on Facebook. In addition to traditional flavors, the shop also offers unique selections like S’mores, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip & Peach and a customer favorite called the Taco Shop.
“It’s a cream cake with jalapeños and cilantro baked into the cake,” Nolta explained. “And it’s filled with sweet jalapeño jelly topped with an avocado-lime buttercream.”
Nolta said she and her mom got into the cupcake business by “fluke” after they both had careers in different fields. Montgomery was an accountant for 17 years and then a nurse. Nolta worked in the real estate appraisal industry before the big hit of 2008.
On the side, though, Montgomery ran a cake decorating business and Nolta remembers the sweet scent of delicious baked treats wafting through her family’s home when she was a kid.
“We had a lot of cake at my house,” she said, with a laugh.
The family plans to keep sharing those sweets with their community for as long they can.