In Downtown Wilmington, at least one self-taught foodie is livening up the block of South Front Street. With a finger on the pulse of what’s happening flavor-wise, Tabitha Meready is offering something different at sweet spot The Peppered Cupcake. Locals should keep their eye out for new ventures and locations, as this pastry princess has her out eye for expansion.
The Peppered Cupcake
105 S. Front St.
260 Racine Dr., Ste 7, Racine Commons
Before becoming a baker, Tabitha Meready owned a concierge company. “I was basically a glorified gopher,” she quips. And one who always was explaining her business to others. “I always thought ‘Next time I have a business, I’ll have one that speaks for itself.’”
That is something cupcakes can do at The Peppered Cupcake.
Most anyone can appreciate the miniature, swirly, frosting-topped cakes. Still, Meready works to be creative within pre-established confines. She adds unexpected layers of flavors.
“I’m a self-taught baker. And a foodie,” she says. “I love to play with sweet and savory.”
There’s pepper in the bakery’s signature cupcake (although, there are different versions), which is topped with vanilla-bean butter cream and fresh-cracked peppercorns. The fact it might intrigue people, even if they may not want to try it, means potential customers may be more likely to come through the door.
Meready loves to experiment with making cupcakes based on her favorite dishes. Specials might include cakes topped with red-bean butter cream and toasted sesame seeds, or orange marmalade and a touch of horseradish, or bacon-banana-cumin cupcakes. Even a pear and hot-bacon jam offering was inspired by a burger. And Meready says her most intricate cupcake (so far) may be one with roasted butternut squash, fig preserves, a sliver of goat cheese, and a balsamic reduction—but it isn’t often on the menu.
“I like them all to be complete desserts, a complete experience,” she adds.
Those who are less adventurous will find flavors like pumpkin tiramisu, “Blonde Turtle” or “Chocolate Revelation.” Meready’s menu includes daily and featured flavors, which folks can get delivered, too; her cupcake jars are especially designed for easier shipping. Each 8-ounce jar is filled with two cupcakes, layered like a trifle. For the most part, though, these cupcakes are assembled and/or topped by order, with extras like fresh whipped cream or a heated topping that’s poured over the warm cupcakes, such as the “Smashed Bananas Foster” or “Peach and Lavender Cobbler.”
Meready started The Peppered Cupcake in Kinston, her hometown, in 2008, but she and her personal-and-professional partner, Shannon Foster, knew they wanted to start a family and move to Wilmington. They weren’t planning on a downtown shop, but they settled into the storefront at 105 S. Front St. to open in 2014, after they closed their original store. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice. Meready believes in the power of word-of-mouth; soon after she opened, she received positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp. Since then, she’s continuously been at the top of their lists for Wilmington.
“I’m not sure that would have happened if we hadn’t been downtown,” she admits.
In fact, in many cases, it’s visitors (rather than residents) who have done their online research and are intrigued enough to come into the shop. The online buzz has built momentum that’s turned into a second location in Racine Commons. While a significant water leak of about 1,600 gallons or so set back plans, Meready and Foster did much of the work themselves to prepare for the November opening. It has more seating, including couches and comfy chairs, as well as more drink and coffee options and free WiFi. “We want it to be a place where you can relax,” Meready says.
The Kinston shop had a cozy, homey, cafe feel. It’s something Meready hopes they’ve recreated at the second location. The Peppered Cupcake, wherever it has been and wherever it will go, has been a home away from home for its two founders. Meready was pregnant with her daughter when she was getting her downtown location going and was back to work soon after giving birth. People who stopped by the shop often could watch along as their daughter grew. Now, they are parents to a 3-year-old and the family will be a prominent presence at both shops, where the focus will remain on serving delicious cupcakes. “We want to stick with what we’re good at.”