Wilmington’s Little Italy section has been home to some of Delaware’s most iconic bakeries.
Take, for instance, DiFonzo’s, which opened here in 1945. After the Wilmington site closed in 2004, Black Lab Breads moved in. Meanwhile, Sheila Papa opened Papa’s Pastry Shop in 2001.
Stephanie Grubb recalls each bakery.
“As a kid, I remember coming down and going to all the different shops on Union Street that aren’t here anymore,” said Grubb, who lives in Bellefonte. “There’s so much history on this street, and people always remember it as having bakeries.”
Grubb and her partner, Hannah Schoenbach, are keeping the legacy alive.
On Feb. 3, the partners held the grand opening for Hell’s Belles Bake Shop at 600 N. Union St. — Papa’s Pastry Shop’s old location.
Grubb and Shoenbach met while working at De La Coeur, a café specializing in pastries and breakfast.
The café had an original location on Lovering Avenue in Wilmington’s Forty Acres community and a second location in Independence Mall on Concord Pike.
Although the Forty Acres site had just eight tables, it was regularly packed. The suburban store was just getting started when the COVID pandemic hit, initially shutting down indoor dining.
Owners Gretchen and Alex Sianni closed both sites in spring of 2020.
Now jobless, Schoenbach, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, and Grubb decided to open a business.
“We weren’t sure if it would be a takeaway model or an online business — or what it would be,” Grubb said.
To start, the entrepreneurs sold pastries at Westside Farmers Market at Cool Spring Park. Meanwhile, they investigated a lease on Papa’s old space, which had been vacant for nearly seven years.
Welcome to Union Street
The partners, who had to buy all new equipment, are pleased with the location. “There are so many small businesses on this street — it’s a great spot to be,” Grubb said.
One of those businesses is Sweet Somethings Dessert Shop, which opened in 2004 at 1006 N. Union St. Among Sweet Something’s offerings is specialty cakes. There’s no competition there.
“We want to stick with pastries predominantly,” Grubb explained. “We try to offer cake by the slice — lemon pound cake, almond cake or bundt cake — but if anyone wants something more elaborate, we refer them to another shop.”
Instead, Hell’s Belles’ customers will find croissants, cookies, hand pies and crumb bars. Challah is available Fridays and Saturdays. Babka and cinnamon buns are available on Saturdays. Hell’s Belles is open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
David St. Clair, who lives nearby, is already a fan. “If you loved [De La Coeur] … you get to support this place as it grows and ripens,” he said. “La Colombe coffee is a must.”
Bakery facing forward
Meanwhile, Hell’s Belles’ wholesale business has been winning accolades from vendors.
“Everything Hannah and Steph have made for us so far has been simply amazing,” said Dwayne Foster, co-owner of Mercury Café & Teahouse in New Castle. “Their quality and flexibility have made it so easy to work with them. We are so lucky to have found them.”
“It doesn’t get any better — local, small women-owned business, outstanding product and the best people to deal with,” said Nick Quaabar, owner of Scout Café. “That’s a win all around for me.”
But retail is just as important; the shop has a seating area and display cases.
And this summer, Hell’s Belles will again be a farmers market vendor.
In the future, the owners may increase savory options, such as breakfast sandwiches.
Time will tell, but for now, the future looks sweet.
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