Kim Hammer, owner of the popular dessert bar Bittersweet in downtown Raleigh, has a tattoo on her stomach: Always Hungry.
“It’s written in French,” she explains. “I am always incredibly hungry.”
For Hammer, that hunger goes deeper than any sweet dessert could satisfy. “I’ve had that entrepreneurial spirit my whole life — just that antsy, wanting-to-create-things feeling. I’ve had the corporate career path, the 401k. But it’s always when I’m working for the small business owners that I felt excited,” she recalls.
Entrepreneurs chase their dreams across thin tight ropes with no safety net, but that’s what makes her feel alive. “It’s life!” she exclaims. “You have to live it!”
Hammer started her baking company right from her kitchen, but didn’t initially anticipate expanding. Her home-baked goods sold at Southern Season, Helios and the Carrboro Farmer’s market. As her fresh desserts filled Triangle-area tummies, people began asking when she would open up a physical bakery. Ultimately, Hammer dreamed up something more unique — a “terribly wonderful dessert, coffee and cocktail lounge.” Everything on the menu is seasonal and full of complicatedly sweet-strange flavors.
Having grown up in Raleigh, Hammer says she feels a sense of responsibility in creating our city’s future. “The city is changing a lot right now, and people have input on how it will turn out. This is my city. My children are growing up here.”
She acknowledges, however, that downtown Raleigh’s rapid growth has created some division, particularly with the Save the Patios movement and city sidewalk issues. “The last several months with the outdoor ordinances has been really disheartening and frustrating.” Lost seats and early curfews mean less money.
“I feel like we could have really worked hard together with the city to come up with some good compromises — because the truth is, business owners want to solve problematic issues too. But I felt like there was not a fair dialogue or fair debate. Business owners were literally begging for them to listen to us just a little longer,” she explains.
These growing pains hurt now, but they may end up being helpful in the long-term growth of our community. “I like to have something to struggle against,” Hammer shares. “When you struggle, you learn. When we’re forced to compromise, we all learn to see a new perspective. It’s good for us.”
Bittersweet has become part of the downtown, vertical neighborhood, and it’s added a new flair to local nightlife. “I love looking down the bar any time of night and seeing the diversity. Every age, every financial bracket. That’s what makes me feel successful,” she says, hoping to give people a different flavor of downtown destination.
“The nature of my pallet is that I like things to hit a lot of points. The ideal dessert to me is a little bit salty, a bit sweet. A little smooth and a little crunchy. That’s what makes for an interesting dessert.”
It’s also what creates an interesting city, an interesting nightlife and entrepreneurial bliss.