East Durham Sweet Shoppe: Uniting Community through Decadent Treats and Local Flavor

Chocolate-covered strawberries, cookies, pretzels and candies nestled inside cupcake liners and displayed in-store. Items are either bagged or covered in multi-colored chocolate.

Chocolate-covered strawberries, cookies, pretzels and candies made by Stacy Ramos at the Sweet Shoppe.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024

By Ryan Christiano

Stacy Ramos has dreamed of owning a business since she was 15 years old. In 2012, as a stay-at-home mom, Ramos started baking cupcakes to make some extra income. Her homemade treats gained popularity at her daughters’ school and her local church, but after three years, Ramos felt burnt out and wanted a change.

Baking wasn’t her passion. However, she had always loved the event industry overall, and wanted to start her own business endeavor. Ramos fell in love with chocolate dipped items.

Ramos discovered her love for chocolate dipped items. A fortuitous encounter with a “for rent” sign while taking her daughter to school led her to an empty storefront. 

“I’m a believer,” Ramos said. “Everything I do is faith-based. I asked God to send a sign. I said ‘If it’s meant to be, let that sign be up three days from now.’”

On a whim, Ramos called the landowner to inquire about the vacant location. To her surprise, a baking company was a “perfect fit” for the space. Thus, Ramos had her storefront, East Durham Sweet Shoppe, up and running in a few weeks.

Ramos said that running a brick-and-mortar store in the food industry—particularly in the sweets sector—is incredibly competitive, so she supports other brands by offering their sweets at events that she hosts and selling them in her store. She even redirects customers to her friends’ locations if they have a product Ramos doesn’t.

“I view other vendors as community members rather than competitors,” Ramos said.  “There’s a notion that if everyone is doing similar things, why would anyone choose me? But for me, it’s about collaboration and community.”

Ramos said that what sets East Durham Sweet Shoppe apart is that it is neither a bakery nor a chocolaterie, but instead, a candy store. 

“The focus is ‘Dip, drizzle, cover it in chocolate and serve it to the public!’” she said. “There’s no science to it. It’s more about creativity!”

According to Ramos, the most beloved items on the Sweet Shoppe’s menu are currently the candy apples, which are dipped in soft milk chocolate and buttery homemade caramel; crispy chocolate turtles; both savory and sweet flavored popcorn; and swizzle sticks (caramel wrapped pretzels). 

“If I’m gonna sneak a treat, it’s caramel—just raw—not on apples or anything. If we’re talking about a menu item, then popcorn,” she said.

Ramos values her customers’ feedback so much that she keeps items in stock based on their preferences. She recalled that a customer once entered the store and made a beeline for the strawberry sour belts, explaining that they gave her a sugar rush while she was writing, so Ramos decided to keep those on the shelves just for her, even though they were far from being best-sellers.

“My customers are walking into a sweets store, so I can’t help but be sweet to people! When people come back and realize I remember what they like, who they are, their name, that’s what helps the business evolve,” Ramos said. In the future, Ramos would like to host more hands-on events in the store to publicize the Sweet Shoppe, such as a “Dip and Sip” party with desserts and coffee, or a girls’ night out with mocktails and treats.

Ramos is currently participating in the Black Business Expo held each Sunday during the month of February at The River Durham Church, Bull City Food & Beer Experience at DPAC on April 7, R.H.O.D.A. Generation Vendor & Job Fair is April 13th and our Spring Dessert du Jour Mothers Day Weekend Event. 

One of the current signature events that the Sweet Shoppe hosts during spring is “Dessert du Jour” (dessert of the day). The event entails setting up pop-up tents outside, selecting local treat makers to bring tents and tables and giving those businesses a chance to interact with potential new customers.

 “Expansion is always on my mind,” she says. “There are no details yet, but there’s always conversation about moving to other parts of Durham.”

Ramos also wants to try creating mix and match popcorn bars for events or celebrations instead of traditional treat bars with cakes and other sweets. 

“I’m in that age group where marketing is ‘old school,’” Ramos said. “You build your brand based on word of mouth and your work itself.”

While social media is good for brand awareness, Ramos said it’s all a numbers game. A business owner can have a million followers on social media, but if the real, day-to-day interactions don’t reflect that, it isn’t worth it. 

“I don’t just want followers; I want customers, and I want relationships with people,” Ramos said. “The real interactions are when those folks engage, remember us, come in for holidays after they’re inspired by the pictures they see online. When people support local small businesses, they’re supporting somebody’s dream and stimulating the economy.” 

Ramos said her end goal is to provide Durham citizens with jobs at her store. 

Ramos likes reflecting on her most worthwhile experiences as a business owner, and one particular story from last Mother’s Day stuck out to her: this past year, she closed the store so she could spend time with her daughters. Ramos, fresh out of Sunday service at her church, ran to the store to quickly check on a few things. 

There she found a woman and her children standing outside the shop, reading the poem permanently affixed to the door. Ramos let them in despite the closure and learned the mother’s story. She had discovered the Sweet Shoppe on Tiktok and had traveled from Greensboro to Durham to spend Mother’s Day shopping at black-owned businesses. Ramos said the family purchased many products to make it worth her time, and that she remains happy about that decision. 

“Customers are the heart and soul of the store,” Ramos said. “When I see a customer more than once, I want to know something I can remember them by. They become part of our family. This is why we’re here, why we’re open, why we’re in East Durham.”

East Durham Sweet Shoppe’s Instagram handle is @eastdurhamsweetshoppe, and its website is linked here.

Edited by Lucy Smithwick

One thought on “East Durham Sweet Shoppe: Uniting Community through Decadent Treats and Local Flavor

  1. Nancy Stewart says:

    Those sweets look 👀 amazing, I have had the pleasure of those dipped strawberries and many other sweet treats from the sweet smell yummy shoppe. N.Stewart

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