Molly's celebrates one year in IC


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It could be the steady line out the door and around to the next street corner or the more than 2,600 cupcakes sold. Given either indication, it appears that Iowa City really can have its cake and eat it, too.

While today marks one year since Jamie Smith held the grand opening of her Iowa City Molly’s Cupcakes branch, the Manchester, Iowa, native said sweet-tooth connoisseurs continue to spill into the 14 S. Clinton St. store nearly all hours of the day, seeking out an open study space, quaint date spot, or to bring the family.

Sunday’s $1 cupcake special to ring in the first year brought sold-out results in just six hours.
Molly's, which operates two branches in Chicago and New York City, was founded by John Nicolaides. He named it in honor of his third-grade teacher, Miss Molly.

Smith was awarded a $35,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Iowa City City Council on May 1, 2012.

Complete with swings at the coffee bar, antique lunch boxes, children’s desks, and board games decorating the interior, Smith said the interior encourages customers to relax and stay awhile.

“It’s been a great year; we’ve more than doubled the sales we projected, and that’s outstanding,” she said. 

Each day, the store sells anywhere from 52 dozen to 160 dozen cupcakes picked out from the nearly three dozen varieties, in addition to brownies, mini cheesecakes, coffee drinks, and more. So what all goes into pumping out the baked goods on a routine basis?

Try about 50 pounds of sugar each day and 150 pounds of butter each week.

Although the bakery’s wedding and catering business has taken off, slashing expectations, Smith said the late-night scene after 10 p.m. is still catching up, causing her to mull the option of closing early, around 10:30 p.m.

“I’m definitely glad we’re here; I think the town’s glad we’re here,” she said. “We definitely fill a niche downtown.”

With work fast approaching on Cedar Falls-based Scratch Cupcakery at Coralville’s Iowa River Landing development, Smith said she welcomes the competition.

“I think it’s always going to be good with competition, because it keeps you on your toes,” she said. “I think we have the better location.”

Smith, members of the business community, and area residents maintain downtown is a changed place from several years ago because of the 21-ordinance, and it is poised for continued alternative-venue support.

“Before [businesses like Molly’s Cupcakes], it was only the bar scene or restaurant scene that was open,” said Betsy Potter, the operations director for the Downtown District. “From a downtown revitalization standpoint, the best downtowns are the ones that function 24/7. If you come downtown for supper and nothing is open afterwards, you have no motivation to stay.”

Downtown resident Veronica Tessler, who owns Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, 132 S. Clinton St, said partnering with Molly’s to offer “middles” — cupcake centers — has helped spread the word for both dessert businesses, while introducing a new, once unheard of environment for the downtown. 

“We go through dozens of cupcake middles per day, and people are really excited that we have such a strong partnership with another local business,” she said. “We see folks coming through our doors until we close and those are people who may or may not be going to the bars.”

For Dubuque native Tiffany Wuertzer, who stops by the bakery two to three times a month, Molly’s is just one of several businesses that contributes to Iowa City’s diverse food offerings and overall likeability — an aspect she said remains lacking in her hometown.

Still, one Iowa City resident, says that although Molly’s brings a unique atmosphere in a prime location as a late-night hour to the bar scene and is reasonably priced, it can only be apart of the desired equation.

Emma Baxter, a 2013 City High graduate, said for the local population still too young to frequent bars, options continue to lack on several fronts.

“Iowa City is very limited,” she said. “You can go out to eat or got to a friend’s house. That’s pretty much it.”

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