Photo by Odochi Ibe
In some ways, Olivia’s isn’t all that different from the plethora of other cupcakeries that have proliferated in D.C. in recent years. The shop is filled with the sweet aromas of cinnamon and sugar, and the color pink is prominent in the decor.
But one major difference is plain to see—specifically, the thick sheet of bulletproof glass separating the customers from the register.
Located along Minnesota Avenue SE, the District’s newest temple of tiny frosted desserts would otherwise seem a signifier of increasing gentrification on the east side of the Anacostia River. Yes, even rough-and-tumble Southeast D.C. has finally succumbed to the prissy cupcake craze.
Yet, the very existence of the glassy barrier—the kind of thing you expect to see at cheap Chinese and fried chicken carry-outs, not precious bastions of buttercream—suggests the area still has a ways to go before shedding its neighborhood-in-transition label.
“It broke my heart to do that, but it’s a deterrent,” says proprietor Cindy Bullock, who runs the cupcake shop alongside her husband, Bob Bullock, and their daughters, Kristina, 20, and Alexis, 18.
“Several people asked (about the glass) and said, ‘It’s a beautiful shop, its unfortunate that you have it up,’ but we had to have it,” Bullock says.
“I have owned several business in this area and we have been robbed several times,” she explains. “We wanted to make [the shop] elegant and beautiful, but because of the teenagers and having my children here we wanted to protect them.”
Bullock has been baking since childhood. Her own children encouraged her to turn that hobby into a business. The family has owned the building for years and decided that a cupcake shop would make good use of the space, as well as bring a new amenity to the neighborhood.
The cupcakes are all homemade. Note the bits of real fruit in Bullock’s tasty strawberry variety. And they’re cheap: generally, around $2 a pop—that’s 75 cents less than the ones you find at tourist-magnet Georgetown Cupcake.
Olivia’s, which opened in September, has already attracted some loyal patrons, who, despite the dubious implications of the glass, still see the place as a sign of progress in the neighborhood. “This is going to bring a fresh opportunity for people [in the community] to gather, other than liquor stores,” says Sandy Dickens, an employee of nearby General Security Services Consultants, who’s become a regular customer.
“I go to all of the other cupcakes places, including a small one in Maryland,” Dickens says, “but they aren’t made as fresh and are overpriced.”