Sweet dreams are made of this


March 29, 2024

La Dolcekca burger with fries and cocktail

La Dolcekca’s sweet and savory treats bring global goodness to Montford.

by Michael J. Solender | photographs by Richard Israel

One of Karina Cooper’s greatest joys is generating smiles from the people who walk through the door at Montford’s La Dolcekca Bakery Café. 

And while sweet and savory bites lay the foundation for happy patrons, it’s La Dolcekca’s inviting atmosphere illuminated with Cooper’s warm personal glow that have created a destination third space — a comfortable place away from home and the office — for a morning or midday break.

“This is not a job for me,” Cooper says. “This is my life. This is what I love to do, what I look forward to every single day. I love to watch how people experience the bakery… enjoy flavors and treats they often recall having as a child. I love to bring joy to people, especially those times when they aren’t having a good day and they come here and maybe it’s a word I have with them, or after they enjoy a special cookie or slice of cake they ask, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ That’s what motivates me.”

Cooper’s dream of having her own European-style pastry shop and café has been decades in the making. As a child growing up in her native Dominican Republic, Cooper, 44, was captivated daily by the aroma of fresh baked goods coming from the bakery next to her home. Like the Dominican cakes that tempted her as a young girl, so did the notion that one day she’d be the baker behind the counter, a calling she held fiercely into adulthood, despite the obstacles that inevitably come with entrepreneurship.

Left: A tower of treats at La Dolcekca. Middle: Karina Cooper

She moved to New York City at age 21, then to Charlotte in 2009. Her dream for her own bakery moved right along with her. She held administrative jobs, and worked in the beauty industry as a cosmetics-counter manager. She started a side job baking out of her home. “I did a little bit of catering; birthdays and baby showers. People just loved my cakes.”

With a growing cottage baking business, Cooper felt the time was right coming out of the pandemic, and in 2022 she opened La Dolcekca in Montford — an area known for eclectic eateries like Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, Good Food and Moosehead Grill. 

Cooper believes divine intervention led her to the site, a former pizza shop equipped with a built-in ventilation hood and walk-in cooler — two large expenses that would have constrained her opening budget. “It was a blessing for me to find this space.” 

The bakery’s name is a riff on the Italian term la dolcezza, which means “sweetness.” The Italian influence comes from her mother’s Italian husband of 30 years who exposed Cooper to the language (she speaks Italian, in addition to her native Spanish and English), the culture and the food. Her unique spelling comes from replacing the “z”s with her initials to make the brand her own. Cooper’s daughter, Sharon Chanelle, helps run the bakery.

Visitors to La Dolcekca find a variety of pastry styles, from classic French macarons, eclairs and cream puffs — Cooper took a master class at Luma’s Cake International Academy in Paris — to American treats such as double-chocolate cookies, blondies and cinnamon rolls. Dominican flavors are found in her traditional flan and rice pudding.

What’s La Dolcekca’s specialty? Cake. Lots of luscious cakes representing a mash-up of cultural influences, techniques and flavors. Tres leches is a bestseller, though those looking for the traditional Mexican style may be surprised to find a pistachio or even a banana-pudding version. Rich, yet not too sweet, the tres leches is served in a deep-dish pan with a healthy layer of whipped cream. 

Left: Savory empanadas filled with pulled pork, chicken and spinach. Right: Sharon Chanelle Cooper

Cheesecakes are light and airy, and often feature tropical flavors like mango or passion fruit. Cooper’s buttery rich Dominican cake appeals to Caribbean natives and Charlotteans alike with its elegant simplicity. Her carrot cake recipe comes from France, with a caramel flavor that distinguishes it from ooey-gooey, southern confections. 

Guests shouldn’t sleep on La Dolcekca’s savory offerings. Cooper tempts her guests with breakfast staples and a variety of panini-like grilled sandwiches, salads, pasta and empanadas. 

“I decided to be a bakery and café, because when I go out, I don’t want to have limited items,” Cooper says. “If I try a sandwich, I want to add something sweet. Everything that I have on my menu are foods I love to eat.”

Cooper’s specialty chimi sandwich demonstrates her quirky style. Slow-roasted pulled pork is piled high on a split crusty roll with tomato, pickles, onions, raw cabbage and American cheese, then pressed panini-style and served alongside crispy fries. A salmon chipotle sandwich has a similar preparation but with the distinctive heat and smokiness from roasted jalapenos in adobo sauce. 

La Dolcekca’s funky dining room has a quiet energy with fuchsia walls, crystal chandeliers and a baker’s rack filled with a collection of mismatched teacups and tableware. The coffee bar offers hand-pulled espressos, lattes and Italian coffees as well as tea and fresh juices. 

“I’m very blessed and happy with the journey I’ve been on with the bakery,” Cooper says. And the smiles from her customers? “They are the best part.”  SP

La Dolcekca is located at 1607 Montford Dr., Suite C

Featured image: A burger topped with bacon, pulled pork, onions and a house-made chipotle sauce with fries and hibiscus juice

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