Bank-based bakeries bring charm and variety of goods to Rock Hill

adouglas@heraldonline.comJanuary 18, 2014 

Amelie’s French Bakery celebrated its new downtown Rock Hill location with a grand opening event on Saturday.

The restaurant –– which has been open since early December at the corner of Caldwell and Main streets –– enjoyed a steady crowd on Saturday as customers found comfy seats, sipped coffee and devoured bowls of Amelie’s signature soup: spinach, asparagus and leek.

Amelie’s three owners, Bill Lamb, Brenda Ische and Lynn St. Laurent, started their first bakery in Charlotte’s “NoDa” arts district about six years ago. The neighborhood’s gets its name because of the homes and various businesses in and around North Davidson Street. Three years later, Amelie’s opened an uptown Charlotte location.

In Rock Hill, “we saw something that, to us, felt a little bit like NoDa,” said Lexi St. Laurent, community manager for Amelie’s.

The downtown area – which the city of Rock Hill markets as “Old Town” – has a “similar energy” to the Charlotte arts district, she said. The old Citizens Corner building where Amelie’s opened in Rock Hill seemed like the perfect spot for a new bakery to the owners.

The building was once home to the Citizens Bank on Main Street. The bank vault now houses a walk-in refrigerator. After a full-scale renovation, Citizens Corner restaurant opened about six years ago offering Southern cuisine. It closed last year.

When Amelie’s owners started talking about a new bakery, they weren’t sure about opening a third location so close to their Charlotte spots, St. Laurent said. The owners are also looking to open a new location in Atlanta.

Amelie’s does not want to become a chain, she said, “but there was just something about what (downtown Rock Hill) was doing.”

Support from city officials to revitalize downtown, the growing arts community around Main Street and the proximity of Winthrop University all seemed to be a good fit for Amelie’s, the owners said.

Co-owner Ische designed the Rock Hill location’s interior. She also designed Amelie’s two Charlotte locations.

Her goal, she said, was to create a space where a customer will have “all of their senses delighted.”

She hand-crafted all of the bakery’s light fixtures. The interior color scheme is blue because, as Ische says, “in color psychology, blue is a very soothing color.”

Ische’s needlework art, eclectic chandelier-like fixtures and variety of mismatched furniture give Amelie’s space an original look, she said.

She was inspired to make the bakery “feel like home,” she said, because that’s where people are most comfortable. At home, Ische said, “nothing might have your grandmother’s chair with your aunt’s table.”

At Amelie’s, the tables and chairs aren’t wholesale furniture bought from a restaurant equipment distributor. Ische found a variety of pieces –– some of it heavily used –– and restored them in her workshop.

The bakery’s walls are full of artwork, but not cluttered. Ische intends to regularly change pieces to give customers new items to look at.

Ische’s designs were just as appealing as her chai tea latte and twice-stuffed raspberry croissant, for Angela Cranford, one of Amelie’s customers.

“I love the atmosphere and the light fixtures,” Cranford, 46, said. “The decor is just great ... I’ll be coming back.”

Cranford, who works in Charlotte and lives in Rock Hill, said Amelie’s arrival is a step in the right direction for the city’s downtown. Downtown needs more restaurant options that have a unique flair to get more foot traffic, Cranford said.

Amelie’s opening marks the second Charlotte-based sit-down bakery option now available in Rock Hill. Nova’s Bakery – which has three locations in Charlotte – opened on Cherry Road, near the Winthrop University athletic complex in September.

Since then, Nova’s has seen “good business,” says general manager Tanja Novakovic.

While Amelie’s and Nova’s are “very different,” she said, they’ve been neighbors in Charlotte for a few years and “there’s nothing wrong with a little competition” in Rock Hill.

Nova’s most popular items, she said, have been its “glorious morning” muffins which are carrot cake muffins with apples, raisins and pecans; its savory pastry with feta cheese, spinach and red pepper; and its pecan sticky buns. The bakery also offers coffee and a range of fresh-baked breads, home-made soups and some breakfast sandwiches.

Being close to Winthrop has helped Nova’s, which caters to a crowd that enjoys sitting down with coffee and pastries to study, read or socialize, said Rock Hill location manager Tori Jacobitz.

Like Amelie’s, Nova’s is also located in a former bank building. Nova’s old bank vault has been transformed into a sitting area with couches and lamps. Nova’s also has a drive-thru window.

The bakery has hosted book club meetings, local author book signings and hopes to introduce open-mic nights soon, Jacobitz said.

Amelie’s presence in Rock Hill can only help both bakeries thrive, she said.

Many local customers aren’t accustomed to visiting sit-down bakeries or independently-owned coffee shops, she said, so having more than one option will help build a “culture” to support both types of businesses.

Jacobitz has found that Nova’s attracts many retirees who moved to the South after living most of their lives elsewhere. Up north, she said, small pastry and coffee shops with couches and unique decor seem to be on every corner.

Many of her customers, she said, “love the South but (places like Amelie’s and Nova’s) are the thing that they’ve kept saying they’re missing.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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