An unseasonably warm winter Friday was made all the sweeter by the opening of the long-awaited Sugar Cafe on Potomac Avenue.
By 9 a.m. Feb. 18, the windows were cleared of paper and the door was open. The public responded in a big way.
“Stripping the paper off the windows was our defining moment. We took the paper off and all this outside light came in, and I knew we were ready,” owner Kelly James said.
Despite the mounting buzz around the cafe, James was stunned by the huge turnout. Sitting down for an interview on Monday evening, she admitted that it was the first time business was slow since Friday morning.
“While working on the place in January, I was surprised by how desolate Potomac could be, how quiet. The amount of traffic we received in the last three days was really, really encouraging," she said.
After an attempt at launching her business in the old New Leaf Cafe spot fell through, James came back to her first choice of venue, the former location of Moonstones, long vacant after the business relocated to the corner of Potomac and West Liberty Avenue.
Transforming the former retail storefront into a functional coffee shop might have been more work than her team counted on, but “the extensive renovations,” Kelly said, “were so worth the finished product.”
One look at the Sugar Cafe confirms Kelly's opinion: The interior is painted in complementary shades of blue, tied together by black accents, flooring, and furniture. The counter space is long and open, showing off both the eats and how they are made. In front left corner is a cozy sitting area with chairs and a couch, accompanied by a bookshelf of options for your coffee reading. The space's most prominent feature, the loft, has been used most uniquely as a baking and production area, visible to all inside and immediately outside the cafe.
James aimed to bring a slight whimsical nature to the space. Her 4-year-old son helped her choose the wall decorations, vibrant and funky illustrations that look like they could have come straight out of a children's picture book. The whole vibe of the cafe is a little elegance, a little sweetness, and a lot of low-key charm, attractive to commuting urbanites and families alike.
“It's been such a good mix of customers," James said. "I intended the restaurant to be family-friendly. I want moms to be able to bring their kids here in the afternoon. I have a young son, so I know how great it is to have a welcoming place to take your child.”
With such a favorable response, James is concentrating on the areas estimated to have the least customer traffic.
“We are going to attract a lot of morning and evening commuter traffic, so the marketing and promotions are going to be focused on bringing in more lunch customers,” she said.
James is making additional plans for daily specials, commuter-friendly promotions, and possible expanded hours, including BYOB dinners in the summer.
“I think people around here have missed not just what a coffee shop sells, but the kind of environment it provides," James said of the cafe's enthusiastic reception. They miss that coffee shop atmosphere. That's what we're really trying to bring to this community.”