NEWBURYPORT — Their cupcakes were made famous last summer when the hit Food Network show "Cupcake Wars" considered showcasing their sweets for its September episode. But despite selling more than10,000 cupcakes in the wake of all that media attention, Ron and Rhonda Weisheit of Pralines Bakery in downtown Newburyport are calling it quits.
They're not the only high-profile business changing hands in the middle of an otherwise cold and sleepy winter. The waterside coffee spot Plum Island Coffee Roasters is also changing hands, owners Joyce Coady and Samantha Stephen said. Even though both business owners are leaving their respective businesses in the hands of new owners, the two moves represent a notable shift in Port's vibrant, but personalized, downtown coffee scene.
Lulled by the promise of fulfilling a lifelong dream of opening their own restaurant in chef Ron's native Florida, the duo that made Pralines a household name announced this week they are taking their family to Boca Raton and will wrap things up at the bakery at the end of this week.
"After eight wonderful years in downtown Newburyport, we have decided to pursue the opening of a restaurant in Boca Raton, Fla.," they wrote to patrons. "The sudden sale of the business came upon us with a shock."
Their news will likely shock their many regular customers, as well, who have grown attached to the pies, cakes, tarts, cookies and cupcakes the couple served from their small corner shop on Liberty Street, Rhonda Weisheit said. But it wasn't all bad news delivered by the Weisheits this week. Along with their goodbye came news that they plan to leave all their secret recipes behind for new owner Lee Ann Coughlin, a former cake decorator and baker turned accountant who is thrilled to return to the kitchen.
"I was a baker for about 15 years," Coughlin said yesterday as she worked with Rhonda Weisheit to get accustomed to the Pralines' routine. "I've been an accountant and a CFO for the past 10 years, but always over those years, I did cakes for friends and family and baked, so it's a passion. I was looking for an opportunity for myself and this popped up. It was this nice karma-fate thing."
Samantha Stephen and Joyce Coady said earlier this week that the two have thrown themselves into Plum Island Roasters, working hard for the past seven years to get it to the point where it is now, but they are ready to take a much-needed break. They said they will officially resign their ownership stake on Friday. The coffee shop is located in Hilton's boatyard, near the Black Cow restaurant.
The Weisheits will turn their business over for good on that same day, with mixed feelings.
"It's sad, but it's happy at the same time," Rhonda Weisheit said. "All of our customers here know we've wanted to do this. Where Ron's a chef, that's been our dream to open a restaurant."
Weisheit met Ron while he was on temporary assignment from his Florida home, spending the summer cooking in a New England restaurant, as many Southern chefs do, she said.
"I convinced him to stay in New England for 15 years," she laughed.
Now, it's time to make a go of something new, though she said they will miss the many friends and clients they have gotten used to seeing every day — especially all the children and families they have become friendly with.
"One of the things that's given me the most pleasure are the children who wake up in the morning and ask if they can come to Pralines," said Weisheit, who knows them all by name and by their preference of sweets.
"They all have their favorites," she said. "Both Ron and I are attached to our customers and our friends. It's an incredible community. They've supported us for eight years."
New owner Coughlin is happy to take over the reins of an operation with so many devotees and said she's planning no changes to the recipes the Weisheits are leaving behind. In fact, all of the current staff have been asked to stay on in order to ensure continuity in the making and baking of favorite items. The only thing Coughlin might do is expand on the offerings of decorated cakes, offering more elaborate varieties in accordance with Coughlin's own specialities, she said. The appetizers and made-to-order dinners Ron Weisheit used to create will not be continued once he departs, however, since Coughlin is a baker by trade. Other than that, she promises to run the same bakery residents have come to love.
"There's such a great product here," Coughlin said. "We will keep all her recipes just as they are. I don't want to mess with perfection."