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Bittersweet Shoppe sends Newbury Street back to the ’50s

A customer works on a laptop while seated inside Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

You’d never know by looking at the menu of The Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury — chock full of zany fare like white chocolate raspberry cheesecake iced coffee, blueberry grilled cheese, and a Belgian waffle on a stick — just how bitter things had to get for owner Tracy Casavant to create a place so sweet.

“I was using my business as somewhat of an escape or a way of healing, because I was feeling very lost and I had a void of time,” said Casavant, who lives in Hubbardston. “It’s a great reminder to me, but also to encourage others to become better, not bitter, and try to enjoy life’s sweetness.”


Casavant is not one to sugarcoat her story. Before she began her journey to opening the Bittersweet Shoppe in June 2020, she faced a litany of personal tragedies. She lost two babies shortly after their births, 13 years apart. She became a single mother. She experienced foreclosure on her house and filed for bankruptcy.

Her business, an old-fashioned soda fountain and cafe slinging everything from brownie sundaes to gourmet hot dogs, became a welcome distraction, a way for her to cope by focusing her attention on creating a homey, nostalgic oasis where guests could sip a root beer float and forget their troubles for a while.

Owner Tracy Casavant stands outside The Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury, an old-fashioned soda fountain and cafe. “It’s a great reminder to me, but also to encourage others to become better, not bitter, and try to enjoy life’s sweetness," said Casavant. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The road to the Bittersweet Shoppe, a space “making these the good old days, too,” Casavant said, began when she was selling dog treats at a farmers’ market with her son, Tanner, in 2016. There, she noticed another business’s name: When life gives you lemons.

“That’s when the light bulb went off,” said Casavant, now 46. She was resolved to do just that, in more ways than one. Under the name Bittersweet Homestead, she soon set up shop selling lemonade and fresh kettle corn at SoWa Open Market, the farmers’ markets in Copley Square and Davis Square, and a City Hall Plaza pop-up.


After participating in Open Newbury, Casavant, who had been a bartender at Cheers and Abe and Louie’s, dreamt of having her own brick-and-mortar on the iconic stretch. Fast forward to November 2019, Casavant was signing the lease on the cozy space formerly occupied by Patisserie on Newbury, with plans to open the Bittersweet Shoppe on Marathon Monday in 2020.

Once the pandemic hit, she was unable to open her storefront because she wasn’t yet licensed and City Hall was shuttered, and the festivals where she sold lemonade — and brought in her income — were canceled.

“That’s when I went into a little bit of a panic mode, like, you have got to be kidding me,” Casavant remembered. “It was more about surviving, not even thriving.”

After the Bittersweet Shoppe was finally able to open in June, Casavant’s mom, her sister, and her friend Cheryl Johnson volunteered at the store.

“It’s nothing you’d see on Newbury Street — it’s nothing you’d see in Boston,” said Johnson, who works at the store part time. “You’ve got your fancy restaurants, but this is just a little bit of home.”

The Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury sells carnival-like fare such as fried dough, a Belgian waffle on a stick, and decadent ice cream sandwiches. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The extensive menu offers delicacies one would usually find at a carnival — fried dough, giant Bavarian pretzels, decadent sundaes served up in vintage dishware. The food often contains local ingredients, like Bart’s Ice Cream from Greenfield, but all the treats have one thing in common: They’re comfort food.


“We loved the idea of easy, home-cooked food,” Casavant said. “None of us are chefs. We’re just a bunch of moms cooking with heart.”

Some of the dishes boast a modern spin on a classic. Take the breakfast banana split, for example: dollops of vanilla Greek yogurt mixed with berries, sliced bananas, and granola, and topped with peanut butter, chocolate chips, and coconut flakes.

The shop also sells products from women-owned businesses Casavant found from her years on the festival circuit, such as brownies from Yummy Mummy Bakery and honey from Beverly Bees. “It’s a win-win — they get to have their stuff on Newbury Street, and then I don’t have to make it in my back kitchen,” she said.

Employee Alena Feldman working at the Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury, which sells products from area businesses, such as brownies from Yummy Mummy Bakery and honey from Beverly Bees.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The store itself doesn’t quite match the mid-century aesthetic of the menu. Instead, the brick-and-wood-paneled store is crammed full of kitschy quote signs, rustic candles and pillows for sale, and multicolored wreaths. There is also an outdoor patio with a cluster of tables.

A huge fan of decorating, Casavant said she cobbled together decor from vintage shops and Facebook Marketplace finds, but splurged on a few things, like the soda fountain stools from RH. “My home is decorated the same way my shop is,” Casavant said. “Kind of primitive, kind of country and antique.”

Olivia Travis working at the Bittersweet Shoppe on Newbury, where grilled cheese sandwiches come in varieties like blueberry, caramel apple, and turkey pesto. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A place like Bittersweet Shoppe attracts an interesting crowd. One customer, said Johnson, came in weekly to get a float reminiscent of the ones he got while working his paper route as a kid. “I think a lot of people go backwards in time and enjoy that moment,” Johnson said.


Another customer, said barista Sayaka Alessandroni, asked for half-lemonade and half-blueberry cobbler iced coffee (it was pretty good, said Alessandroni, but don’t expect to see it on the menu anytime soon). Employee Kaiden Roberts said people often come in asking for cold brew, which they don’t serve. “That’s always a fun conversation,” Roberts said.

Creating relationships with the customers, Casavant said, has been the most fulfilling part of opening the Bittersweet Shoppe. “I just wanted them to feel comfortable and welcomed,” she said. “Cheers isn’t the only place where everyone knows your name, cause that’s what I think people love about our place, too.”

The best part about the clientele? “Our target market is everyone,” Casavant said. “The kids love it, the grown-ups love it, the college kids love it, families love it, couples love it.” And the hefty, irresistible menu means many come back to try something else.

Business has improved — “I know I’m doing well because there’s still money in the bank,” Casavant said — in no small part due to a viral TikTok video featuring the store from @thebostonfoodie. That, in addition to the return of the ravenous college student crowd, of course, gave the shop a boost.

As for the future of the Bittersweet Shoppe, Casavant wants it to just get sweeter. She’s toying with the idea of opening a second location in central Massachusetts, as well as starting a sister company, Boston Picnic & Platter Company, to sell pre-packaged picnic baskets.


Though she still carries the weight of her personal devastations, Casavant said the Bittersweet Shoppe has become a new home — even if that means rewriting its definition.

“I was able to take all those things that I wanted in my life personally, and give [them] to the world,” she said. “Let everybody else enjoy my passion for decorating for the holidays, enjoy hospitality, and making a nice space — kind of a safe haven.”

Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.