Lulu's Bakery & Pantry A Sweet New Addition To Downtown Salem

SALEM, MA – A long and winding journey to find a retail location for Nikki Economides to sell her Fixx Chocolate creations has led to Thursday’s grand opening of the new Lulu’s Bakery & Pantry on Derby Street in Salem.

Nikki and Jim Economides met in 2014 about a year after the pastry chef began selling her chocolate creations wholesale. They soon started thinking about setting up shop somewhere north of Boston with their extended path to downtown Salem including potential stops in Ipswich, Lynn and Melrose, as well as a flirtation with a cannabis company that wanted to use Nikki's chocolates as edibles.

The Salem couple was getting set to open in Lynn two years when the onset of the COVID-19 crisis hit and the investor they were working with pulled funding.

"It was all the emotions," Jim told Patch on Wednesday. "It's certainly been challenging — no question about that — from a lot of different angles. Shortage of products and equipment because of supply-chain trouble. For a while, banks weren't loaning money to people in the restaurant business. We have a lot of friends in the food industry and we heard all about what people were going through.

"It was daunting at times."

Yet, the search continued — now under the uncertain cloud of the pandemic — but eventually they found the 285 Derby Street location in January 2021 and knew they had their spot.

"We fell in love with it right away and could see all the possibilities," Jim said.

A year later, Lulu’s had its soft opening in early February with a ribbon-cutting ceremony including Salem city leaders set for Thursday at 11 a.m.

"Opening in February has given us a little taste of what's to come," Jim said. "The weekend of 'Salem So Sweet' with the weather being really nice that Saturday was really busy here. Since then, we’ve had some really good weeks up to now.

"It's been great. We're looking ahead to the warmer weather coming and anticipate business going up."

Lulu's is located next to Notch Brewing Company and Brothers Taverna restaurant. It is also next to what will soon be the new Real Pirates Museum.

Along with the chocolates, Lulu's offers sandwiches, coffee drinks, salads, soups, a special breakfast egg sandwich on Nikki’s signature biscuits as well as custom cakes.

"And killer cinnamon rolls," Nikki declared.

She said Fixx Chocolates weathered the coronavirus crisis through an increase in demand from wholesalers for inclusion in care packages.

"It definitely hit hard with the little grocery stores and retail outlets but anybody that did gifting skyrocketed," she said. "During COVID everybody was finding some way to get a little something into their lives."

After a career in pastries, which included time as the pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton in the Buckhead commercial district of Atlanta, the Johnson & Wales alumna said she wanted to get back into baking, which ultimately led to the idea of a café over a chocolate shop.

"I was making too many cookies at home so we transitioned to Lulu's," she said.

Jim, who founded All-Star Sandwiches in Cambridge and also worked in restaurants in Boston and Brookline, said the opening of the café was delayed a bit because of supply-chain issues with equipment, but that those delays did allow Lulu's to avoid the recent omicron surge and the city's short-lived mask and vaccination orders.

He said he was worried when Lulu's opening neared that they might have a hard time finding help, but is happy that did not turn out to be the case.

"We were nervous about trying to find staff after hearing about the troubles from a lot of our friends in the restaurant industry," he said. "But we are 100 percent staffed. Most of the staff, with a few exceptions, are people from Salem — from Salem High School students to a few semi-retired people working part-time.

"We didn't even have to advertise. People saw we were opening and came to us."

The Economides said they have been impressed with how the new place has already been embraced in the city.

"The community has been extremely generous," Jim said.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

This article originally appeared on the Salem Patch