Barrier islands are notoriously dynamic environments by mere virtue of their geography and weather. The ability to adapt is key to success on those narrow slips of sand. Julia Taft has proven so with gusto.
“I was going to move to Ocracoke,” Taft says. “I had made an offer on the property, and nobody had disclosed to me at the time that Hyde County was no longer issuing water permits for water meters, I would have to have a cistern system.”
Not wanting to live for two years without water, Taft turned to her agent for help. She and her young son found a home in Hatteras Village.
“When I moved to Hatteras, I didn’t do anything for six months. I had been a restaurant manager and an accountant in a restaurant forever, and I was just so burned out that I didn’t do anything for 6 months.”
That’s when Taft noticed a need in the market.
“My son kept getting invitations to birthday parties, and there was no toy store. My son had a birthday and he got all of this money. A seven year old doesn’t want cash, he wants toys,” she laughs. “So, I thought, ‘well, I’ll do taxes for four months out of the year, and then in April when the season starts, I’ll sell toys.’”
“Then, the accounting business became a year round job and then all of a sudden I’m selling toys year round.”
“I did that for several years and a building down the street from me came up for foreclosure,” she continues. “It took them so long to sell me the building that we didn’t close on it until May 7. I couldn’t move the toy store May 7 and have the construction done and open for the season. So, I just thought I’ll throw ice cream in here for the summer — so Cups and Cones was born.”
Suddenly, her two businesses in Avon had become three. It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
“The next year, my brother moved to the Outer Banks, and he bought Subway. He lasted for about two years before he moved back to Arkansas. He couldn’t sell Subway, so who gets Subway? His sister.”
As Cups and Cones began to grow over the years, Taft began eyeing larger properties.
After years of putting in offers on a foreclosure on Highway 12 in Avon, her offer was accepted just in time for an annual post-tax season vacation with her son.
“We’re on a transatlantic cruise, and all of a sudden I have this bakery.”
Originally intended to be a doughnut shop, Taft changed gears and began to think about bagels. Muffins and Scones opened July 2017.
Taft speaks quickly and laughs often as she does in a manner completely expected of someone who keeps her hours.
“I was at the bakery every day at 4 in the morning. I’d work in the bakery from 4 a.m. until 9:30 a.m., come home open and my office at 10 a.m. I’d work in my office from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., then I’d be at the ice cream store until 11 o’clock at night.”
When asked about the biggest challenge, Taft responds quickly.
“The employees. The staffing. The things I could do if I had more employees.”
Still, she considers herself lucky.
“I don’t work a shift at the toy store, I have a fabulous manager.” She says Subway is the same. “They’re on autopilot because they have great people.”
As a thank you to those hard workers and to ensure she keeps her strong staff, Taft chooses to keep her businesses open year-round knowing that closing for the winter could drive them to seek year round employment elsewhere.
“With the season being so short, you can’t have a power outage or a hurricane or Ocean View Drive flooding. If you do, you lose one of those really critical twelve weeks that you have. You have 12 weeks to make the money to last you for a whole year.”
“For the last five years, we’ve had something happen. I have lots of clients that don’t know if they’ll be here next year.”
Still, Taft has found opportunity for growth in environmental hardships.
“The toy store after Irene had 19 inches of flood water in it. Subway had 12 inches. That’s when the toy store got moved to Buxton. The toy store kind of grew and evolved after Irene because I’m right there at the turn to the lighthouse now.”
“People who vacation on Hatteras come back for the same week every year. I’ve watched these kids grow up because they come here every year.”
“My accounting business supports me. My accounting business is my job. I don’t have to make a profit with some of my other businesses, I just have to keep my employees employed and help the economy. I don’t really see profits out of two of my businesses, but I’m keeping people employed and I enjoy them so I keep them.”