It’s a classic story: Boy and girl meet, fall in love, decide to start a family, and realize they have to leave New York City. That’s exactly what happened to Tara and Billy Koenig. While working as managers at Balthazar in 2006, the pair developed a relationship. Two years later, the couple moved to the town of Tara’s alma mater, Charlottesville, Virginia. In the past half-decade, the partners did everything they set out to — they had a daughter and started a successful business — but they missed the energy of the city. After several visits to friends in Brooklyn, they decided it was time to return, and they opened a second location of Sweethaus Cupcake Cafe (135 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-710-6627) in Williamsburg’s south side.
“We would visit friends up here all the time,” says Tara. “We tried to convince ourselves we were done with it and loved small-town life.”
The former Manhattanites didn’t understand the appeal of Brooklyn while they lived in NYC, but after spending more time in the borough, they saw an ease of living that seemed doable for a young family. Seeing a lack of comfortable bakeries in Williamsburg, they decided to seek out a storefront in the neighborhood.
In August 2013, the Koenigs found an ideal spot, located right on Bedford Avenue. As negotiations progressed, they moved three of their longtime employees up from Virginia. All was going according to plan until shortly after New Year’s. “I woke up on New Year’s Day or the second, grabbed a copy of the New York Post, and there was a giant photo with ‘Who Didn’t Want Him Dead?‘ ” says Tara. “We didn’t. That was our landlord.”
The couple kept moving forward with the space that had been owned by Menachem Stark before his death; it eventually looked as though it wasn’t going to pan out. Billy started riding his bike around the neighborhood looking for other options. Around the same time, the Koenigs began peering through the windows of 135 Metropolitan Avenue, and the broker who represented the Stark location contacted them with information about a former doctor’s office/nutrition center — it was the same property.
What started off as an uninspired office with commercial carpeting, fragmented consultation rooms, and boring glass facade was completely transformed over the course of three or four months. The Koenigs and their staff ripped apart the space, creating a comfortable environment adorned with patterned tiles on the floor, subway tiles on the walls, marble counters, reclaimed windows, and a vintage-inspired settee flanking the wall. “We wanted to create the kind of place we wanted to go when we lived here,” says Tara. “A late-night place to grab a coffee and cake. We’re striving to create a lifestyle — not only a place to pick up cupcakes, but somewhere to have a meeting, take a class, or just relax.”
Just like its sister shop in Charlottesville, the shop offers a selection of cupcakes ($1 for minis, $2.50 for regular size), custom cakes, coffees, and small-batch candies (there are 160 varieties made in Brooklyn and Virginia). Expect to see interesting flavors of baked goods, like almond, pistachio, salted caramel, cookie dough (the dough-flavored frosting is also available for purchase on its own), and everything, which is inspired by Tara’s love for everything bagels. The hodgepodge cake incorporates marshmallows, chocolate chips, caramel, and Oreos in the chocolate cake base with peanut butter buttercream icing and toffee, nonpareils, buck oats, salted caramel, and Oreo on top.
This new location, however, aims to represent the brand as its flagship store. With the open space, the Koenigs plan to host events and baking courses. It’s currently in the process of attaining its beer and wine license (Tara expects Champagne to be a big draw). For that reason, the bakery is also releasing a food menu. Sometime in January, it’s rolling out dishes like artichoke dip, mac ‘n’ cheese, pistachio waffles, soups, salads (think salad nicoise, etc.), sandwiches, and Southern tomato pie. “The feedback we get all the time down in Virginia is that regulars wish we had a food menu,” says Tara. “This is our first foray into full-time food.”
A few weeks after opening, the Koenigs are finally starting to feel the rewards of the move. They are already thinking about expanding in the next few years, either in New York or possibly overseas. “Coming to New York is like coming home for us,” says Tara.
Sweethaus is open Sunday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.