CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Amelie's French Bakery opened nearly three years ago, the owners envisioned a small neighborhood operation where customers would hopefully get hooked. It's safe to say they have.
"I'm just kind of shocked at how we've grown and the progress we've made," said Lexi St. Laurent, whose mother started the bakery along North Davidson Street.
From just a handful of employees in March 2008, that number has now grown to more than 60. There is a second smaller Amelie's location along South Tryon Street in uptown. A production kitchen is now open nearby to keep up with demand. And the original NoDa location, which is open 24 hours, is busy around the clock, according to St. Laurent.
"Three, four and five in the morning. You start seeing people on their way to work at six in the morning. It is really amazing," she said.
Amelie's often receives requests from visitors to open locations where they live. One recent conversation pitted Asheville against Raleigh. For now, though, both cities will have to wait.
The popular bakery is expanding, but it's going outside the Carolinas.
"We had an investor who was a friend of Amelie's here and they relocated to Tampa and they said, 'Wow, we love Amelie's and we can't get it out of our head," said Brenda Ische, one of the co-owners and the creative force behind Amelie's interior design.
Once the details were worked out, the group found a location in Tampa's Hyde Park Village.
"We want that Amelie's feeling to convey," Ische said as she showed NewsChannel 36 two storage units in Charlotte packed full of art, furniture and chandeliers.
She'll use the mostly recycled items to create the same quirky French café feel of the Charlotte location in Florida.
"I just see a wonderful challenge ahead to find a home for each piece," Ische said.
The owners stress Amelie's is not becoming a franchise or a chain. This is an expansion that made sense.
According to St. Laurent, "We wouldn't have expanded to Tampa unless we had people who understand the spirit of the business and what we're trying to do."
St. Laurent calls Amelie's a small family of restaurants now adding a new member hundreds of miles away.
Ask how proud she is of what her mother's neighborhood bakery has become, and St. Laurent has trouble holding back tears.
"I'm immensely proud. If I start talking about it, I might start crying. I'm very proud," she said.
The owners hope to have the Tampa Amelie's French Bakery open by the middle of next month. Rest assured, it's in a different city, but it will feel much the same.
"The main thing about our business is there is a spirit to it. There is a real connection with the community and it had the same sort of vibe in the Hyde Park Village of Tampa," St. Laurent said.