When Nicole House Lembo of Nicole’s House of Cakes first met her husband Nick Lembo, they bonded over cake.
Nick, a widower, was wedding cake tasting with his daughter at a local bridal expo for her upcoming wedding, and Nicole, a divorced mother of two, was a cake vendor at the expo.
Nick’s daughter chose to go with Nicole’s House of Cakes.
Meanwhile, Nick would pass the cake shop, which was then located on U.S. 41 in Inverness, going to and from his grief counseling sessions and would occasionally stop in for a cupcake or just to talk or to pray with Nicole -- both are devout Christians.
They became friends, and then in 2015 when Nicole moved her shop to Courthouse Square in downtown Inverness, Nick, with a background in commercial construction, volunteered to do whatever needed doing to open her store.
The shop opened in October 2015 and Nick stayed on.
After an on-the-job construction injury 20-plus years earlier had left him out of work for a while, to have something to do he took a cake decorating class, which came in handy when the line out the door for one of Nicole’s cupcakes started to grow.
As the business grew, so did the friendship, although Nick began to believe it was something more.
On Sept. 23, 2016, at the fountain near the cupcake shop, Nick proposed.
The couple married on Jan. 7, 2017, at their church, Crystal River Church of God.
Nicole baked her own wedding cake.
Now the couple have new news: The lease on the shop is up Dec. 31 and they will not be renewing it.
But that doesn’t mean the business is ending. It will just be different, although they don’t know exactly what it will look like.
“We’re trusting God to lead us, just as he always has,” Nicole said.
To the Lembos, Nicole’s House of Cakes has always been more than a cupcake shop.
Students and young adults have come and gone as interns and apprentices, learning a skill and a trade, as well as life lessons.
“God brings them here, some who just need someone to love them,” Nicole said. “So, we’re not just teaching them about making pretty cupcakes...and we’ve seen them grow and change.”
Over the years they’ve hosted kids’ day events, inviting kids to come and tour the bakery, decorate their own cupcakes.
Nicole is on the culinary advisory board at Withlacoochee Technical College and she’s been asked to teach cake decorating as part of the culinary program’s baking class.
And, the shop has been voted Best of the Best every year they’ve been in business.
“Leaving here is definitely bittersweet,” Nicole said. “I like sweet, but not bittersweet.”
When Elizabeth Atkinson, a regular customer who works within walking distance at the Supervisor of Elections Office, heard the news, she was saddened.
“I’ve been coming here every Wednesday -- I call it Cupcake Wednesday -- and posting my new favorite flavor on Facebook,” she said. “Sometimes I come here just to talk. It’s peaceful here. It’s more than a cupcake shop.”
As for the future, Nicole said she has some things in the works, but nothing finalized. Her home is equipped so she can still bake special-order cakes if that’s what she decides she wants to do, and she still has bookings through the end of the year.
She said she likes teaching, and would love to do something on TV or YouTube. She already has a following on Facebook when she posts comical videos.
“We’re two goof balls,” Nick said. “A lot of laughs, a lot of fun.”
Even their “we’re closing” video they posted last weekend -- it got more than 3,000 views -- was filled with comedy, as well as tears.
“We want people to know how grateful we are, how thankful we are to all our wonderful customers, family and friends for their business, love and support all these year,” Nicole said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
They also want people to know that they’ll still be around, just not on Courthouse Square.
“I grew up here,” Nicole said. “This is my community. God has something different for us, we just don’t know what it is yet.”
She added that she still believes in "baking America great again one cupcake at a time" -- sometimes two.