If you stop by Bella Christie and Lil’ Z’s Sweet Boutique on Butler Street in Lawrenceville for your daily spoonful of sugar, you may notice that the bakery has pared down its display cases. But don’t panic; you can still find a Hot Mess cookie (peanut butter, toffee, and white milk chocolate) or perhaps a HoHo cupcake (self-explanatory).

    What you will also notice are three interactive dessert stations that overflow with a rotating cornucopia of delectable goody-ness. The stations, which change out seasonally, have names as fun as their ingredients. For example, last summer the stations featured were Manic Milkshakes, Wafflicious Waffles-a-la-Mode, and Liquid Nitro Ice Cream. With an abundant choice of toppings, customers—with the help of the staff manning the stations—can create a personalized luscious concoction, such as a pumpkin latte milkshake topped with pumpkin pie as a garnish.

    The bakery added the dessert stations several months ago. “We offer over 23 stations for events, so we have a lot to choose from,” says Kristin Smith, who owns the bakery with her sister, Kadee Lewis. The name is a nod to the sisters’ children—Bella and Christie are Smith’s daughters, while Zoe (i.e., Lil’ Z) is Lewis’s.

    The 1,200-square-foot Lawrenceville shop, which opened in 2014, is the bakery’s second location, the original having settled in Aspinwall seven years ago. But the Lawrenceville site (3511 Butler St.) has an inherently different vibe than its counterpart.

    While the Aspinwall site can best be described as shabby chic and resembles something out of a fairy tale, the Lawrenceville store is a bit edgier; its rustic, chic décor, with exposed brick walls, pallet flooring, and reclaimed wood, is a reflection of its industrial surroundings. “We just love the neighborhood feel of Lawrenceville. It’s one of those locations that people from all over Pittsburgh will come to visit,” says Smith. Indeed, the urban location, with its close proximity to the Strip, receives a great deal of foot traffic and even attracts customers from the suburbs and neighboring counties.

    Also, the customer demographic in the city tends to be the younger, Instagram generation, which takes photos of the dessert-station creations, in turn helping to boost sales. “People stop in all the time, saying that they saw it on social media; that has been a great help for us,” notes Smith. “With a younger crowd and a lot of walk-by traffic here, it seemed like a natural place to put stations,” she adds.

    The dessert stations are a new concept for the Lawrenceville brick-and-mortar store, but the bakery has been offering them at private events for years, as catering is a large sector of their business. In fact, the bulk of their bakery business is event-centered; they regularly produce elaborately sculpted “Cake Boss-like” cakes for weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, or other events; but the icing on the cake is surely the dessert-station idea.

    There is nothing cookie cutter about any of the interactive dessert stations, in which custom-made desserts are assembled right before the consumer’s eyes. In fact, the stations are so wholly unique that Smith and her sister have been known to travel as far away as Hawaii, carting along any of the bakery’s unique dessert stations to serve at events. Recently, they provided the dessert table at actor/comedian Kevin Hart’s wife’s baby shower, which was safari-themed; and several years ago they did his wedding—that included not only dessert stations but a walk-through tunnel the sisters filled with amusement-park-themed desserts.

    Part of their innovativeness comes from having worked with event planners, who are always looking for the next new thing, which in turn pushes the sisters to expand into new areas.

    What sets the award-winning bakery apart is the ability to do virtually anything, rather than stick to one particular specialty. But one item you won’t find at either Bella Christie shop is bread. “We’re more of a small batch cakery/bakery, with little bite-sized desserts, small pies, bars, and cookies; things like that. With so much catering that we do, we didn’t want to expand into bread,” says Smith.

    None of their cakes are displayed in Lawrenceville, which is more of a grab-and-go shop. Still, the next time you’re hankering for some Cookie D’oh, craving a Fry Daddy, having a Spherical Meltdown, or feeling trapped in a Whizzing Sugar Vertex, you may be able to get your just desserts in Lawrenceville.

    Bella Christie and Lil’ Z’s Sweet Boutique is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Regular business hours are Wednesdays through Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. You can also follow them on Instagram or Facebook to drool over photo galleries as a prelude to the real thing.

    Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in the North Hills, though she ventures to the Strip whenever possible. She lives with her husband, two redheaded daughters, and a needy terrier.
    Photo by Greger Erickson