The little girls' tea party at Cupkates by Kate included a half-dozen children. But if you ask owner/operator Kate Thompson, there was one other person there watching over things: her grandmother, Rena Ruby.
Ruby was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when Thompson was in the ninth grade. She died a year later.
"I feel her all the time," Thompson, a northwest Las Vegas resident, said. "I dream about her, especially now (with the store opening), and I'm getting chills just thinking about it because I know she's there."
Thompson referred to the opening of her first retail location in The Market LV portion of Tivoli Village, 440 S. Rampart Blvd. The Market LV occupies 23,000 square feet next to and above Brio Tuscan Grille and houses independent tenants under one roof.
Thompson, 26, originally operated Cupkates by Kate solely as a specialty bakery. Its aim was the high-end gift market. In homage to Ruby, Thompson uses her recipes. The 350-square-foot space in The Market LV is cozy and welcoming with little touches such as ceramic cupcakes dangling from the curtain tiebacks.
There are retail items for sale, including cupcake-themed wallets, scrapbooks, T-shirts and wands, but the store's main focus is hosting tea parties where small children learn table manners and pretend the tiaras on their heads are real.
This day, little girls 4 to 8 were gathered around the child-sized table. Each had three mini cupcakes on their antique-style plates. The children squeezed out frosting and decorated them.
Danielle Palma brought her daughter Dylan, 4.
"She was excited; she couldn't wait to come down here," she said. "This is like every little girl's dream, to come and dress up, drink tea and have cupcakes."
Ella and Olivia Silvestri, 8-year-old twins, also attended. When more little girls showed up, they acted as greeters, taking the newcomers' hands and pulling them eagerly to the area with costumes that fit over their clothes.
"We don't have any clothes like this at home," Olivia said. She decided she looked like a princess because of the dress.
When Thompson pressed a sponge stick into pink sugar granules and tapped them onto the frosting, one little girl said, "Look, it's fairy dust."
Thompson recalled how her family supported her when the idea for Cupkates by Kate first sparked in 2008. She had just earned her business and marketing degree from the University of Nevada, Reno, but the economy was so bad that she couldn't find a job.
Her father had recently been laid off from a business he had been with for years, so they became partners, with him helping to finance the venture as banks weren't often lending money. Her mother, Lori, said she had nothing but admiration for her daughter's determination. She also hinted at Ruby's influence.
"When I was her age, I was a shrinking violet; I couldn't talk to strangers," Lori Thompson said. "I think she takes after my mom a lot ... that's where her strength comes from."
Kate Thompson said her determination was tested about a year in, after reconnecting with college classmates who had gone straight to promising careers.
"They were doing really well and buying homes and getting married, and I'm like, 'Holy poop, I'm still in my parents' house, and I have no nickels to rub together because they go straight back into the business.' ... I saw people at that place, and I wasn't there."
But she pushed ahead. Today, she has more than 300 clients. Thompson credits Leslie Parraguirre as her mentor. Parraguirre began her own business, Colours Inc., in 1988.
But it's Ruby who seems to be with her as she goes about growing Cupkates by Kate. One might suspect the business's tea party idea came from enjoying such times with her grandmother, but only the costume aspect reflects her own childhood, Thompson said.
"I was always into dress up, wearing my mom's clothes and Rena's clothes," she said. "I used to sit at her little armoire and try on the lipsticks and her necklaces. I had my own area with my own little lipsticks. It was the 'girl thing' in me."
Will Thompson said his sister was the first granddaughter born and that was probably the reason she and his grandmother were so close.
"When (Rena) passed, needless to say, (Kate) took it really hard," he said. "We're all people of faith, so ... it was a 'goodbye for now.' There's not a day that goes by that her name isn't brought up."
The Market LV is the brainchild of Andrea Young and her husband, Russell. The Youngs have been successful with the concept in California and decided to bring it to Las Vegas. They were approached by about 20 shopping centers but said Tivoli Village stood out as the best fit.
"We love the architecture, the location, the surrounding neighborhood," Andrea Young said. "The tenants there already, with the restaurants, it was just the right fit for us."
Ultimately as many as 25 stores are planned to be under one roof, plus a wine bar and a restaurant on the second floor. The downstairs is a 3,000-square-foot gourmet market with a juice bar and a panini bar.
Stores that were early signers include a cosmetic store, a jewelry store, a bridal couture store, a game store, a bulldog-themed store, a blo-dry bar, a fashion camp, a candy store and a cheese shop. More are in the process of negotiating leases.
"Why we did so well in California with these stores, (is) the owners are passionate owners, experts in their fields," Andrea Young said. "They're not Mom and Pop; they are experts at what they do."
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 387-2949.