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Dutch's opens Pawcatuck store for vegan cupcakes and ice cream

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Stonington — There was a point when Tiffany Shultz had hit so many roadblocks in trying to open a storefront for her vegan cupcake company that she thought maybe it wasn't going to happen. She thought maybe the universe was telling her to stick solely with her job as a 911 dispatcher, which she likes.

But her business advisers hadn't forgotten about her through the pandemic, and Shultz couldn't let go of this dream. On Friday, she's holding the grand opening of Dutch's, a vegan dessert shop at 2 Prospect St. in Pawcatuck.

Her cupcake varieties include banana pudding, mango coconut, pistachio rosewater, lavender Earl Grey, and triple chocolate peanut-butter — plus chocolate, vanilla and strawberry for those who want more traditional flavors.

Dutch's also sells soft-serve ice cream that is vegan, gluten-free and nut-free. One can get the ice cream in a colorful gourmet waffle cone, which comes in flavors such as French vanilla, red velvet, and orange creamsicle. Cupcakes are $5 to $6, and ice cream is $6 with unlimited toppings.

"There's this preconceived notion that vegan food is all terrible and bland," Shultz said, noting sometimes people try her cupcakes and are surprised to learn they're vegan. But "you don't have to sacrifice that feeling of treating yourself."

As for opening a shop during a pandemic, Shultz said she doesn't know anything different than maintaining social distancing, limiting the number of customers and wearing masks.

And she's tried to keep things light: There's a circular decal on the floor reading, "The floor is lava / Stand here for safety" and a sign on the counter that says, "Under the current guidelines your milkshake is only permitted to bring 9 boys to the yard, max!"

Dispatcher by afternoon/night, baker by night/morning

Having never enjoyed meat as a kid, and being further persuaded by documentaries such as "Forks Over Knives" and "Earthlings," Shultz went vegan in 2011.

"If I don't have to harm an animal to eat and survive, then I don't see the reason to," Shultz said. She also commented, "I want to leave as a little of a footprint as possible. I want my great-grandkids to have fresh water and clean air."

As a single mother raising a son with health problems, she was also pushed to take care of her own health. The idea for Dutch's sprang from a walk Shultz did in June 2018 for myasthenia gravis, the autoimmune, neuromuscular disease her 19-year-old son has. Shultz, 38, thought that rather than just asking people for money, she'd sell cupcakes.

Her cupcakes were a hit, and she thought they could be a business.

The business is named for her son, Jake. Given the popularity of the name Jake for businesses — there's a Jake's Diner on State Street in New London, and a Jake's in North Stonington — Shultz went with his nickname, Dutch.

"I'm very proud, because I know we've come a long way," Jake said of his mother, noting that she's worked two to three jobs to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs.

Shultz started selling her cupcakes at farmers markets, the now-closed Café Otis in Norwich and the Niantic restaurant La Belle Aurore, as well as at events such as the Groton Fall Festival and Fairview's Art of Chocolate.

The lifelong Groton resident used to work at La Belle Aurore and said owner Dawn Bruckner made Dutch's possible, because she let Shultz use her kitchen and oven.

Some days she'd get off her job at New London Police Department at 11 p.m., go to La Belle Aurore to bake all night, and then sell at farmers markets. But she didn't mind.

In the fall of 2018, Shultz went to a small business forum the city of New London hosted with the Small Business Administration. She then got guidance from Matt Nemeth from the Small Business Development Center, and Buck Harris and Joe McCaffrey from Community Investment Corporation, whom she calls her "three dads."

Facing hurdle after hurdle

In April 2019, Shultz left the New London Police Department to become a dispatcher for the Town of Groton, and toward the end of the year, she went part-time to focus on Dutch's.

But everything with the shop got put on the back burner in December, when she learned her son had more health issues. She had found him unresponsive, and he ended up spending more than a week in an intensive care unit.

"I think everyone thought I would say, 'No, I'm scared; I'm just going to go back to my job with my safety net,'" Shultz said. But the experience gave her more drive to realize her dream, and once Jake was doing better, she was more motivated than ever.

Shultz got an SBA loan preapproved and picked a location for Dutch's on Mitchell Street in Groton. But shortly after signing a lease in March, Shultz said Harris called her about Gov. Ned Lamont's shutdown of businesses and said the SBA wouldn't be closing on loans.

Not seeing a future for the store, she went back to work full time — and then some, with lots of overtime — as a New London dispatcher. The Groton location would've required Shultz to do plumbing and electrical and provide all the equipment, she said, and she didn't think it was smart to take on so much financial risk at such an uncertain time for businesses.

But she saw a post on Facebook Marketplace about 2 Prospect St., and the commercial kitchen was just what she needed.

"I have a million ideas in my head of how I want to see things grow," Shultz said. But she wants to be smart and not get ahead of herself. She doesn't want to compromise her product, saying, "I want you to be blown away when you come in, not just eat something you've eaten before."

e.moser@theday.com

Tiffany Shultz´s, clockwise from front center, coconut mango, death by chocolate, banana pudding with Lotus Biscoff biscuit and pistachio rose water cupcakes. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Tiffany Shultz´s, clockwise from front center, coconut mango, death by chocolate, banana pudding with Lotus Biscoff biscuit and pistachio rose water cupcakes. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Business Snapshot

Business: Dutch's

Where: 2 Prospect St., Stonington

Owner: Tiffany Shultz

Hours: noon-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday

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