Local bakery HotCakes Gourmet grows into Charlottesville staple

Founded by U.Va. alumni, the bakery expanded from supplying other restaurants to a restaurant serving its own customers

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HotCakes Gourmet is located between CVS and Rebecca’s Natural Food in the Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Sam Spreen | Cavalier Daily

Nestled comfortably in between CVS and Rebecca’s Natural Food in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, at first brush, HotCakes Gourmet sounds like a pancake place. HotCakes is actually a mom-and-pop startup founded in 1986 by two graduates of the University. While it’s hard to imagine Charlottesville without its high concentration of restaurants, when it was founded, HotCakes was a unique enterprise. 

“It was a different world back then,” owner and University alumnus Keith Rosenfeld said. “We built the place, the first of its type for high end bakery, gourmet-to-go, coffee, etc.”

It was Rosenfeld’s wife, Lisa McEwan, who decided to start the business after she graduated from the University in 1979 with a degree in economics. After McEwan realized she didn’t want to continue her career as a bank teller, she worked part-time at a restaurant for approximately six months.

“There was a restaurant in town that [Rosenfeld and I] liked so we started going there and I asked them if I could, you know, come in to work for them,” McEwan said. “I liked the environment there a lot, so I finally quit my day job and just started working in that restaurant.” 

Then one summer, McEwan worked at a restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard that also had a market store and offered catering services. Coming back to Charlottesville, McEwan saw the need for a wholesale bakery to make desserts for restaurants. 

“So we put a little business plan together and started a high-end bakery for expensive restaurants from Charlottesville, Waynesboro and Richmond,” Rosenfeld said.

Besides being aware of the need for a wholesale bakery for restaurants in Charlottesville, when HotCakes was starting, few places in Charlottesville offered prepared to-go foods in Charlottesville.

“I liked the idea that you could just stop by some place, pick up food that was cooked and ready, but take it home and have a nice meal at home when you didn't have time to cook yourself,” McEwan said.

And it grew. HotCakes expanded from a bakery supplying other restaurants to a restaurant serving customers. In 1992, HotCakes moved to Barracks Road Shopping Center.

“We built this place from scratch,” Rosenfeld said referring to the current location, a cozy and inviting yellow-painted café.

Much has changed since then. More and more restaurants cropped up in Charlottesville, and the Corner exploded with food options for students. As a business, HotCakes adapted to the increasing competition. 

“In order to be able to do the kind of quality food that my wife wouldn’t do this restaurant without, we essentially have four or five businesses at once,” Rosenfeld said. “We have a high-end bakery. We have all the gourmet-to-go. We have all the sandwiches and such in here in the cafe. We have all the specialty coffees, and we also have a whole catering operation.”

McEwan admits that the variety of services that HotCakes offers could be confusing to some customers.

“Some people find this business a little confusing because we do lots of things,” McEwan said. “But for me, that makes it interesting.”

HotCakes’ catering is versatile, and it has supplied food for a number of events at Alumni Hall. 

“They have done meetings, weddings, dinners, receptions, breakfasts, lunches, conferences, etc,” Alumni Hall reservations coordinator Carol Anne Abbott said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Any type of even you can think of, they have done here. All feedback ever shared with us regarding the service has been positive.”

As a testament to the positive feedback, HotCakes has been on the Alumni Hall’s approved catering list for 13 years.   

Another way HotCakes has remained successful is through their positive relationships with the community by donating all of its uneaten food at the end of the day. 

“Everyone who’s getting cancer infusions at U.Va. pretty much eats our pumpkin muffins because at the end of the day, everything goes to a set number of charitable organizations, one of which is the Cancer Center,” Rosenfeld said. 

Now, customers can order HotCakes with GrubHub, making the restaurant more accessible for students who can’t get to Barracks.

Third-year College student Claire Keeler is very familiar with the restaurants in Charlottesville because she grew up here.

“I love it. I’ve been going there since I was a little kid,” Keeler said about HotCakes. “People bring their computers there and sit down and do work, and it’s quiet.

For students looking for a café for studying away from the hustle and bustle of the Corner or the stillness of the libraries on Grounds, HotCakes offers food, coffee and free wifi — and, twice a year, free lattes.

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