For her forty-first birthday, Nicole Evans Groth found an unexpected present.
On the evening of April 11, she was perusing real estate listings on Craigslist, as she’d done several times in weeks prior. The head confectioner at downtown Raleigh’s Videri Chocolate Factory for two years, Groth had decided at least to explore the option of opening a sweetshop of her own. A realtor had shown her and her husband, Jason, several spaces, from downtown far into north Raleigh.
But so far, nothing had clicked. Some had been much too big. Others had been too far removed from traffic. But then she clicked on a Craigslist advertisement and found an 800-square-foot storefront at the edge of Five Points, sandwiched between a busy neighborhood and Capital Boulevard as it cuts into the city center. She sent an email and made an appointment.
On Saturday, Nicole will open Anisette—her first venture as a restaurateur—in that space.
“There was no infrastructure for a restaurant here, but it seemed worth it. Aesthetically, it was appropriate, and that’s been a driving force for so much of this,” she says, smiling in the sunlight at one of a few window-side tables. “I guess we’ll find out.”
When Anisette, named for the liqueur and the sense of nostalgia that anise brings, opens on Saturday, the marble-and-glass counters will be full of sweet treats. Nicole lists them all with a grin, from a caramel nut tart with a spicy crust and an apple mascarpone cake to several flavors of Turkish delight, cookies, scones, and meringues. The daily flavors will change, but that’s the breadth of the cast, at least at the start.
Most of the brightly lit space, which Nicole had already designed by the time of her second visit, goes to the open kitchen. Three ovens and two mixers, several cooling racks and large white buckets of flour and sugar: It’s all orderly tucked into place, part of her meticulous plan. Small seating sections run parallel to the sleek countertops. The space balances the modern and the comfortable, like a small-town bakery with accents borrowed from the big city.
In a way, that’s right: For both Nicole and Jason, Anisette is a sort of culmination of the next phase of their life. For decades, they lived in Bloomington, Indiana, attending or teaching at Indiana University, playing in the town’s bands, working for its record labels, and so on. In her mid-20s, Nicole nearly left Indiana to attend culinary school in New York, but she ended up putting those plans on hold. She stayed and taught information sciences and linguistics for nearly a decade, all the while cooking at home and building vacations with Jason to try restaurants around the country.
After graduate school, Jason landed a coveted fellowship with N.C. State’s acclaimed library system. Nicole came with him for his second interview, where she met Videri co-owners Sam Ratto and Starr Sink Ratto through mutual friends. After Jason accepted the job, they made the move south in June 2013. Nicole decided at last to take the chance she’d been pondering for more than a decade.
Her past and present aren’t completely separate, however; turns out, planning daily production schedules allows her to use the skills she learned and then taught in Indiana.
“In Bloomington, I felt like I had this really distinct professional identity there, in addition to going to bars or playing in bands. It would have been hard to just make the jump,” she says. “Making the break here made it that much easier—new people, a fresh start. And this just seems like a place where this kind of shit just happens.”
Though Anisette will initially offer only sweets and a small set of breakfast items, Nicole and Jason already talk about expansion plans. For his part, Jason raves about ideas for building a bigger coffee program, which will start with drip coffee and cold brew. (They’ll add two new roasters to the area’s inventory by selling Bloomington’s Hopscotch and Arkansas’ ONYX.) Nicole talks about the possibility of adding bread, though she says the city has a new wealth of great bakers.
Still, the kitchen was made with lots of mid-sized equipment, capable of being shifted should Anisette add to its inventory or should they return to Craigslist listings when the two-year lease expires.
“There was a very specific effort to make it adaptable. And the name was a strategic move, so, if we do decide to expand, we’re not locked into only sweets,” says Nicole. “We can grow there, too.”