Lydia Ricks loves to watch customers take their first bite of her hummingbird cake. “This is carrot cake country,” she said. “People expect a dense cake, but this has totally different flavors. It sells out as fast as I can make it.”
Ricks opened Bull City Bake Shop in September in Patterson Place shopping center in Durham, just beyond the Chapel Hill border. Her husband, Eliot Ricks, helps out, as does their daughter Genesis Ricks, a first-year UNC student.
The bakery specializes in comfort food desserts — “classics done really well,” Ricks said. Fudgy brownies, banana nut loaf, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies, everything baked with real butter, sugar and chocolate. She doesn’t skimp on the portions, either. On weekends, she makes about 200 yeast-based cinnamon rolls that sell out in a couple hours.
“People are lined up at the door, waiting for me when I get there,” she said.
Ricks began baking as a young teen. She liked the artistry and the chemistry, combining ordinary flour with other ingredients found in the kitchen to create something completely different. She experimented on her suitemates at UNC-Greensboro, much to their delight, and her family.
For seven years, Ricks baked cakes out of her home for weddings and other special occasions, but once her children were grown, she researched the best place for the bakery she envisioned, one that would draw a diverse customer base.
“Food is the universal language,” Ricks said. “It’s a way to start a conversation with someone you might not have a conversation with otherwise. People come into the shop as strangers and leave as friends.”
In the coming year, she and Eliot hope to stay open a couple of nights a week to have a different place for artists and free-thinkers to gather. The hummingbird cake is known to be inspirational. Eliot says it’s why he proposed to Lydia. She concedes, “It has been good for our marriage.”
3604 Witherspoon Blvd., Durham
Ever since Nice Price used-book store closed in Carrboro in 2013, David Bradley ’12 has been waiting for a successor to open. He waited as he began his career in the publishing and book sales industry. He waited while he launched his own second-hand-book store, Golden Fig Books, in Durham in 2019. But when a slice of the 19th-century space that Townsend Bertram & Co. formerly occupied in Carr Mill Mall came on the rental market, Bradley’s wait was over. He opened a Carrboro location of Golden Fig Books just before Thanksgiving last year.
Chain stores took a bigger share of the book business in the 1990s, then Amazon took an even bigger portion. But more independent bookstores have opened than have closed in every year except during the pandemic, Bradley said. The consumer belt-tightening of the past couple years may work in his business’s favor.
“The cost of new books has priced-out many readers,” Bradley said. “Reusing books is sustainable.”
Bradley will stay focused on books, rather than incorporate coffee and snacks. His Durham store abuts Guglhupf Bakery, and his Carrboro branch is next door to Weaver Street Market, where customers can take their Golden Fig books to enjoy café offerings.
Golden Fig sells new, used and children’s books. Bradley will keep the website updated so customers can see what’s new in each store. Later this year, Bradley plans to host authors and community events in the high-ceilinged, oak-floored renovated mill.
His business’s name came from one of his favorite novels, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, that compares life to a fig tree.
“This is what I want to do with my career,” Bradley said. “This is my golden fig.”
200 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro
Marshall Goods, a new store on West Franklin Street, combines high-quality men’s clothing with home goods. Husband and wife team Lucas and Brenna Marshall initially launched their business in 2018 in Boise, Idaho. The pandemic forced them to close the doors of their brick-and-mortar shop, but it opened new possibilities. Though they have an online presence, their commitment to physical stores pushed them to research communities where independent stores found success. Chapel Hill’s renewed interest in strengthening commercial business downtown popped up on their radar.
Marshall Goods opened in Chapel Hill in November. The business supports small and midsize producers. Customers are attracted to the store’s clean aesthetic and high-caliber products, Lucas Marshall said. The most common feedback he gets from his customers is that “they no longer have to go to New York, L.A. or any other big city to shop for the brands they love.”
422 W. Franklin St.
After Mint Indian Cuisine left its West Franklin Street location last fall, Beer Study noticed an opportunity. Since 2012, the no-frills craft beer bar and bottle shop had been operating out of a space on North Graham Street where much of the activity spilled out onto a broad front patio. The West Franklin Street space would give owner John Derek more interior space and more room for glassware and a kitchen.
JD, as he’s known to regulars, hustled to get the space ready for Beer Study’s 10th anniversary in December. The new location will still have 18 to 24 taps for craft beer, but he’ll stock fewer bottles. JD plans to install TVs for viewing soccer and other sports. The new space will still have outdoor seating out front.
504 W. Franklin St.
As soon as Beer Study moves out of the space at 106 N. Graham St., a new concept by Mike Benson will move in. Benson, who owns Franklin Motors Beer Garden on the southwest corner of West Franklin and South Graham streets, plans to open Lapin Bleu, a combination bar and art gallery. Benson is known for his drawings, photographs and posters of pop legends and vintage performance spaces. He previously owned The Station and Southern Rail in Carrboro.
106 N. Graham St.
To enjoy a cigar is to partake in a rich culture — planting, growing, harvesting, fermenting and rolling tobacco — dating back hundreds of years, said Dekalon Stample, manager of Oasis Cigar Lounge. Oasis provides a getaway for “sisters and brothers of the leaf,” he said.
The upscale casual bar operates as a private club for those 21 and older and held its grand opening in November. Patrons can select from more than 60 lines of cigars, from premium smokes of Padrón, Cohiba and Perdomo to local rollers such as Amendola and Carolina Blue Cigars. The club serves handcrafted drinks from its full bar, and a sommelier hosts tastings to pair wine with various cigars.
130 Two Hills Drive, Carrboro
— Nancy E. Oates