Since Candace Nelson launched the first ever cupcake bakery in 2005 to the popularity of Food Networks’ Cupcake Wars and TLC’S now expired behind-the-scenes look at Georgetown Cupcakes, cupcakes are here to stay (not that you should have had any doubt). Carrie Carella can be credited with being one of the most successful cupcake bakers in the state of Connecticut.
If you’re a tried and true Nutmegger, you’ve seen her colorful and crazy cupcakes on your Instagram feed, at your 4th of July picnic, or even at an offbeat wedding. NoRA Cupcake was originally founded in Middletown in 2008 and has been providing Connecticut with something sweet (and a little bit punk) ever since. Carella’s own roots inspired the name of her business- NoRA stands for “North of Rapallo Avenue.” Alcohol infused cupcakes, seasonal and festive flavors, and traditional sweet tooth favorites line the trays of this bright and bold cupcake shop. Now with three locations (Middletown, West Hartford, and Canton), a cupcake truck, a catering business, and wholesale clientele, NoRA has grown more than Carella ever intended.
NoRA is known for being bold— unique flavors, frosting piped miles high, black and hot pink signage, and eclectic, vintage décor in all three locations— are signature details. Upon entering the Middletown location, an aroma of sugar and spice fills the room while Amy Winehouse and Justin Timberlake play in the background. The Middletown location is where all the magic happens, which Carella said is reflected in the space— “This is our more eclectic store and I think it’s very reflective of all of us, our different personalities, and shows our growth. I feel like we were kind’ve polishing and solidifying our image as this bold, in your face, pink and black brand. This is also where the majority of the staff works so this is the most diverse, eclectic, and creative space.” Carella collected mismatched and miscellaneous décor for the Middletown space— the booths came from Firebox in Hartford, 1960s turquoise hairdresser chairs are from a beauty salon run by a friend, and custom murals (painted skeletons baking cupcakes, obviously) were created by an artist Carella knows.
Carella values the creativity and individuality of her staff. She does not expect them to have a culinary background, as she started NoRA just as a hobby baker. Instead, she expects they will be “hardworking, dedicated, friendly and upbeat… I feel that everyone that works here works here because they want to be a part of NoRA and be a part of something that is still growing. We can teach them everything else.”
The flavors are as unique and creative as the staff. Carella credits some of her success—both her creative success and her business success— to social media. “Inspiration for the flavors is really just things that we want to eat. We’ll see something on social media— everything is so visual, and you’re like ‘oh my god that doughnut had fruity pebbles on it, now I want a cupcake with fruity pebbles on it.’” The fruit pebbles cupcake is now apart of NoRA’s line of cereal-inspired cupcakes, which are infused with a milky filling. Other cupcake categories include “Today’s Hits,” “Bangers,” “Dranks,” “Just A Lil’ Bit,” “Kiddie Gangsters,” “Remixed Oldies,” “Say What,” and “Vegan Friendly.”
NoRA also has a line of cheesecake cupcakes complete with a graham cracker crust, as well as boozy baked goods. Even the classics are NoRA-ized: vanilla cake is filled with a rich chocolate ganache, seasonal watermelon flavored cupcakes are decorated in pink and green frosting with miniature chocolate chips, and a humble maple cupcake wouldn’t be complete without whiskey and bacon. Oh, and what about their signature frosting? “Honestly, I think that’s just how we started making them and then people started taking pictures and commenting on it so I was like ‘make sure the frosting’s tall!’ And now that’s our thing.”
With now three (soon to be four) locations, a catering and wholesale business, and a food truck, Carella has seen NoRA grow far more than she ever expected. What advice would she give to someone breaking into the culinary industry for the first time, or to herself? “Enjoy even the most stressful parts of it because you don’t know what’s going to come from that or how you’re going to grow from those stressful parts. You have to be open-minded to everything…but you don’t need to say yes to everything.”
NoRA Cupcake is located at:
- Middletown: 700 Main Street
- West Hartford: 103 Memorial Road
- Canton: 110 Albany Turnpike, Suite 903