Sugar Magnolia Café: A 20-year dream becomes reality

Christine and Howard Sadel (center) opened Sugar Magnolia Café and Emporium in Wake Forest.

Christine and Howard Sadel (center) opened Sugar Magnolia Café and Emporium in Wake Forest.


By Jennifer Primrose

Howard and Christine Sadel always knew they wanted to open a café. Howard recalls 20 years ago, while still living in New Jersey, that opening a café would help create a better life for them and their family. "We always had this idea of opening up a dessert café that included selling art," says Sadel.

"I had been training in multimedia at the time and Carolco Films studios in Wilmington popped up in my job search," he says. While viewing Wilmington as a great place to make their dream a reality, the timing was not right. After moving to Raleigh in August of 1996, their family began to grow with their second child - their daughter, Hannah, who was later diagnosed with congenital heart failure. 

"This put us on a path of 4 years of multiple heart surgeries and procedures both here at UNC and in Chicago," says Sadel. Later, they welcomed a son, Tyler, but the dream of owning a café was never far from their hearts.

Now, many years later, with their eldest son Nick in his seventh year in the USAF, Hannah in her first year at Meredith College and Tyler a sophomore at North Raleigh Christian Academy, it is time to pick up their dream. "God has given us a location that truly fits what our vision was 20 years ago," says Sadel.

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Excerpts of our 5 Questions With for April were answered by Sugar Magnolia's Howard Sadel.

Tell us a bit about the idea and concept behind Sugar Magnolia café.

The concept is to offer fresh made soups, salads and sandwiches, along with great coffee and local craft beer and wine - in an environment that is inviting and as comfortable as your own home. As a marketing digital strategist, I know very well how we have become online "social" but offline to the people right around us. Christine and I hope to be a part of the movement that brings people back to local community awareness and support by making Sugar Magnolia Café a place of gathering and celebration.

You chose a location in Wake Forest on a street that seems to be known for much of the similar things you are doing now. What will make you stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in that area?

We see Sugar Magnolia Café as catering to a little different niche and not so much as being a competitor. We are really just as much a restaurant as we are a café – we offer a great solution for private parties and events. (We're) also expanding the craft beer options ... giving craft beer lovers a wider opportunity to sample beers from around the state. We love White Street Brewery, and see them, as we do with all other businesses on the street, as partners to bring more people to White Street.

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Sugar Magnolia will be serving sandwiches, desserts and coffee. How much of your ingredients are local? Have you selected local roasters, farmers, etc. to work with ... and how important is it to you to source locally?

We are all about local. It's great that it's a global economy and all, but if we jump over people right in our backyards to source a product far away, are we really helping each other? We have so many great artists, artisans and suppliers right here in Wake Forest and the surrounding communities. Our strategy is to seek out local first. Even if that means we need to pay a little more, that's fine.

The Emporium, in the bottom level of the café will feature many local artists. This is very similar to Going Local, which used to be located in north Raleigh. Tell us a bit about this idea?

Christine used to sell her jewelry at Going Local in north Raleigh until they closed. The Emporium has a very similar collection of local artists, and we even have one of their managers, Karen Lussi, now working with us. We currently have 35 different local artists and artisans. Each artist leases a space and pays a 10 percent commission on sales for marketing and sales support. After being in this position ourselves, we wanted to create a fair business arrangement that allows both sides to thrive. Charging high rates to artists just forces them to raise prices, slowing sales and discouraging them. We want people to get great exposure, sell their work, and be able to sustain their business. 

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What is your game plan for year one? Any special events coming up that people should know about?

After a two-and-a-half month build out, we are just thrilled to be open for business. Operating for about 6-weeks now, our grand opening will be the weekend of April 29 then it's full steam ahead. Our location does have a 20-year history as the Olde English Tea Room, and a very loyal following. That said, we intend to honor that history and will be continuing tea service, including afternoon or low-tea. Every Friday night we will be hosting our very own "Art on White" featuring one of our artists starting on May 5.

Keep up to date with Sugar Magnolia Café by visiting their web page at or follow along on Facebook at

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