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In Western PWC, Just Desserts

By Peter Lineberry

Whether it’s for a special occasion or immediate gratification, sometimes your sweet tooth just has to be satisfied. Well, Prince William Living has found a number of tasty options for you, all located in the county’s western half (three in Manassas, one in Gainesville). While there is diversity in the goodies that they make and sell, this quartet of confectionaries has much in common: They started from humble
beginnings, they’re equally adept at serving individuals and large groups, and they’re all locally-owned small businesses that would love for you to stop in and delight your senses.

The Lemonade Bakery
Food allergies endanger the health of millions of Americans, and one of Kelly Stroh’s sons is among them. From his infancy, she learned how to bake cakes, cookies and other treats for him without including eggs, peanuts or tree nuts. This potential lifesaving knowledge grew into a home-based business in 2006
and then her own shop and kitchen in Historic Manassas, which opened last July 4. Using her upbeat motto, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” the bakery’s name seemed ready-made.

As owner and head baker of the store at 9410 Main Street, Stroh and her small staff make “allergy-friendly” cupcakes, cookies, scones and breads, and custom cakes that are always peanut, tree nut and egg free. Dairy and soy allergies—although not wheat—can also be accommodated upon request. This makes the bakery’s items popular for local school parties and other gatherings, where Stroh said people are “excited to be able to have a normal celebration but keep everyone safe.”

Lemonade Bakery offers delivery throughout the D.C. region with sufficient advance notice. And as word gets out, its many varieties of cookies can be carefully packaged and shipped anywhere in the U.S. The bakery’s taste testers, most of whom don’t have allergies, affirm that its goods have the same homemade taste and texture as traditional bakery offerings.

“What’s nice about being here in Historic Manassas is that we are getting a lot of local people just coming in for a cupcake or cookie,” Stroh said. Though a sign in the storefront window displays the dietary restrictions, and ingredients are always listed, some customers just enjoy Lemonade’s products without
knowing about their uniqueness until afterwards. According to Stroh, “That’s exactly what we were hoping for.”

Popcorn Monkey
Right across the street, on the corner of Center and Main, the Curious George-ish logo of Popcorn Monkey beckons you to step inside. Deltone Moore and his wife Mickey launched the original Popcorn Monkey in Middleburg in 2012 and still run it, but at the Manassas location that opened last summer, their daughter Jewell is usually in charge.

Mr. Moore’s vision stemmed from enjoying popcorn at baseball games with his uncle, and later the family experimented with flavors and varieties during movie nights at home. The business expanded following the popularity of kiosks at Manassas Mall and Tysons Corner, as well as at Redskins games.

Its gourmet kernels are popped in coconut oil and lightly glazed at the Middleburg location and transported regularly to Manassas. Flavors fall into the categories of “sweet” (fruity flavors, caramel, dark chocolate) or “savory” (cheeses, buffalo wing, dill, and many others) and are available in bags of various sizes or in 3.5 gallon tins emblazoned with holiday themes or the logos of college and pro sports teams.

The small shop’s wares can be striking to passersby in Historic Manassas. People “look through the window and see the retro stuff, it catches their eye, and they want to come in and check it out,” said Jewell Moore.

Shelves are full of popcorn supplies and novelty candies, many that conjure up earlier eras, that are hard to find elsewhere. But to wash it all down, they’ve also got quite a collection of humorously labeled and flavored soda bottles from outside companies. Peanut butter and jelly soda? Monster mucus or bug barf? Radioactive soda? Don’t say you weren’t warned. Pair the rainbow-colored “Cornfetti” popcorn with a “Dog Drool” soda, as I did, and expect gasps from your online friends. In other words, visit Popcorn
Monkey when you want to feel like a kid again.

Cakes by Happy Eatery
Over on bustling Liberia Avenue—9685 Liberia to be exact— is Cakes by Happy Eatery, another family business spanning generations. This full-service bakery’s bread and butter is, instead, cakes, especially custom-designed ones for special life events. Birthdays, weddings, weekends…you know the ones.

“We love challenges. That’s how we grow, and that’s how we’ve evolved,” said Victoria Wu, who runs the bakery with sisters Emily and Charlotte and a staff of about 10. But the impetus for opening it came in the 1980s at their parents’ Chinese restaurant in Alexandria (Happy Eatery, naturally). Fortune cookies and oranges were deemed insufficient for dessert, so the restaurant hired a pastry chef, and soon customers were asking for not just slices of cake but the whole thing. The Wu sisters watched and learned, grew inspired, and relocated to Manassas in 2010.

A stroll through Cakes by Happy Eatery’s website will uncover hundreds of cake ideas, flavors and designs on a vast array of subjects. Should you not see the cake you’re looking for, store staff members know just how to personalize one that matches your occasion and party size. Wu describes the custom design of a cake as a mix of one’s imagination, the prep time needed for baking and decorating, and the customer’s budget.

If you need something small, the store always has fresh assortments of pastries, cupcakes, cookies and pies. Or when the situation arises, they’re unafraid to think big. In 2014, they created an elaborate 8-foot-long cake to celebrate 30 years of the family business. And if that wasn’t enough, the bakery also
serves a cafe menu featuring numerous sandwiches, salads and beverages, including (this writer’s first) bubble tea.

“When you’re running a small business,” Wu said, “it’s more than your dedicated number of hours; you really have to want to do it. Then you’ll find the energy.”

Simply Desserts
From a licensed home business making cakes and mini desserts for eight years, to her own store where she fashions award-winning wedding and other custom cakes, Kimberly McDonald has found the recipe for success. “People come to us with special requests, and we pretty much try and do whatever they ask for,” McDonald said. “I knew this was going to be a challenge, so it was like, ‘Okay, let’s go for it!’”

Simply Desserts is located at 14035 Promenade Commons Street, Gainesville, part of the Virginia Gateway shopping district. It opened in April 2016 with ample assistance from the Air Force vet’s sons Matthew, who scouted out the ideal site, and Alex, who mans the front counter and supplies many of the artistic touches. (Alex and his artwork were profiled in our December 2017 issue.)

One element that sets Simply Desserts apart is its adjacent events room, where cookie and cake decorating classes regularly take place. For example, June and July will feature summer vacation
cookie and heart-shaped animal cookie classes, and even a three-day “cake camp.” All ages (10 and up) and abilities are welcomed, and class sizes are limited to 12 participants. The room is also used for cake tastings and meetings with wedding clients as well as monthly afternoon teas.

And when visiting, note the tip jar on the counter. Ten percent of tips is donated regularly to Semper K9, an up-and-coming county nonprofit that trains service dogs for veterans in need; with the remainder, McDonald treats her staff to dinner.

Though McDonald lives in Fairfax, she’s never had any doubt about setting up shop in Prince William. “I do love being in the county. Everybody here is just wonderful,” she said. “It’s all coming together, and every day is a great day.”

Through dogged investigative journalism, Peter Lineberry ([email protected]) has discovered how to have his cake (and popcorn) and eat it too.

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