The turquoise and brown tiles lining the wall at Grace & Shelly's Cupcakes on Fifth Avenue South form what look like swirled seashells, but don't be deceived.
"They're actually cupcakes from above," co-owner Grace Bolen said from a table in her newest bakery, which opened last week.
A sign inside encourages patrons to "Eat a cupcake, then eat another." And the big photos hanging along the adjacent wall feature larger-than-life colorful cakes. Silver and turquoise accents combine for a look Bolen, 41, calls "modern elegance."
Bolen began her gourmet cupcake business two years ago. Her first shop on U.S. 41 in Naples, was quickly joined by a second in Fort Myers Bell Tower plaza.
She teamed up with Shelly Stayer, 49, a longtime customer and fellow cupcake enthusiast, for the creation of their 537 Fifth Ave. S. location. The pair has plans for two more locations next year — one at Coconut Point in Estero and another at The Mercato in North Naples.
"Shelly was one of my very first customers and she kept coming in," Bolen said. "After 2 years, I said 'Let's do it. I can't do everything myself.'"
Bolen, a Naples native, worked for years as a software consultant, traveling frequently and working long hours. She left her career about six years ago, and spent a year perfecting about 18 flavors of cupcakes for what was originally Gracie's Cupcakes.
The store now boasts 32 flavors, from traditional vanilla and chocolate to unique flavors such as raspberry lemonade, orange coconut, and peanut butter and jelly.
Stayer, too, has a weak spot for the sweets. A graduate of the American Culinary Institute, she began experimenting with cupcakes about 20 years ago.
"Gracie is the most meticulous person I've ever met," Stayer said. "Sometimes I'm afraid to frost in front of her. The frosting has to be perfect, the batter has to perfect. If your frosting is even a little crooked, it gets taken out of the display."
When Bolen's first location opened in 2009, Naples resident Kirsten Ferrara knew she'd be a regular.
"I saw the neon sign that said cupcakes and something in my heart just went 'Oh, good God,'" said Ferrara, 39.
It's the consistency of the flavors and baking that brings her back.
"Gracie's cupcakes are worth the calories," she said.
As a ballroom dancer, Naples resident Shelia Davis, 47, said she works hard all day and looks forward to a reward.
"It is my one guilty pleasure," she said of her favorite brown sugar caramel cupcake.
Prices for the desserts range from $1 for a mini cupcake to $27 for a customized, giant cupcake. The regular size goes for $2.95.
The store also offers ice cream delivered daily from Royal Scoop. All proceeds from the cupcakes with bright purple frosting go to The Shelter for Abused Women and Children, and daily leftovers are donated to homeless shelters.
The shop's opening is part of a revitalization of downtown Naples and Fifth Avenue South where nearly 20 percent of properties on the street were vacant two years ago. Lise Sundrla, executive director of the street's Business Improvement District, said seeing the bakery open is exciting.
"We haven't had that (cupcake) focus on the street," she said, referring to select coffee shops that offer sweets on the side. "This is for families and kids of all ages. They offer a variety."
Elsewhere in Naples, gourmet cupcake shops have opened in recent years. Simply Cupcakes on U.S. 41 opened this month. Sassy Cakes on Fourth Avenue South and The Naples Cupcake Company in Waterside Shops are among the ranks of confectioners in town.
"Folks say cupcakes are just trendy, but they're not a trend because they're not going away anytime soon," Stayer said.
Bolen hopes the casual atmosphere, outdoor dining and late hours at Grace & Shelly's Cupcakes will set the bakery apart, drawing tourists and Naples residents alike as they stroll Fifth Avenue South.
"I really think of our cupcake shop as a neighborhood cupcake shop that you can come to at night and gather," Bolen said. "It's more like a cafe or restaurant where you can hang out."
All three of Grace & Shelly's Cupcakes locations are open seven days a week. The Fifth Avenue South location opens at 10 a.m. daily and is open until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Friday's and Saturday's, the store stays open until 10 p.m. On Sundays, they close at 8 p.m.
For catering and other information, visit www.graceandshellyscupcakes.com.