Farmville’s Café Madeleine, RISE29 interns connect over confections

A group of East Carolina University interns is helping an artisanal bakery bring the taste of France to Farmville.

Through ECU’s student entrepreneurship program RISE29, College of Fine Arts and Communication senior Erycka Anderson and College of Business sophomores Evelyn Gonzalez and Grant Smith teamed with Café Madeleine Bakery & Wine owner Coleen Starling to grow her downtown bakery in Pitt County.

Named after the madeleine tea cake, the café specializes in French baked goods while also offering lunch options four days a week. A whiz in the kitchen, Starling started her business after moving to Farmville and receiving requests for the baked goods she donated to local charitable causes.

Demand continued to rise, and Sterling realized she could use her business to help Farmville.

A team of East Carolina University student interns partnered with Farmville’s Café Madeleine Bakery & Wine to find workforce solutions to the café’s growing need for new employees as part of the student entrepreneurship program RISE29. (Photo by Matt Smith)

“My business is important to the community,” Sterling said. “We’re a draw that can bring people to Farmville. That’s been a part of my mission. We want to show people what downtown Farmville has to offer.”

To do that, the café connected with RISE29 with the goal of identifying new revenue streams and developing ways to serve more customers.

Over the fall semester, the internship team started small — creating daily operational templates and inventory sheets that helped Starling accurately track inventory, food pricing, food waste and cost margin — and worked their way up to bigger ideas that may drastically impact how the café operates in the future.

“We had to find ways to get her some help,” Anderson said.

The team reached out to community colleges in a 50-mile radius and researched culinary programs that fit Café Madeleine’s unique style. They found a potential partner in Lenoir Community College. By partnering with LCC’s program, the café could bring in well-trained student workers who earn credit while sharpening their baking skills on the job.

“A partnership like this allows Colleen to build a relationship with the students that could become her future employees,” Anderson said.

Along with this potential new talent pipeline, the team developed a website for the café to grow its social media presence. The website allows the café to share its food and drink menus, while Facebook and Instagram give the café a chance to show off its goods and the customers consuming them.

“Café Madeleine is such a unique restaurant,” Gonzalez said. “It makes Farmville a better place to live and eat.”

Sterling, who has plans to expand her business with the addition of a bistro, said she appreciates the work the team has put into the café.

“I know I’m a difficult client to work with,” she said. “I have to wear a lot of hats as the owner and operator of the café. I appreciate the team’s help because it’s vital to my business.”

And her business is vital to Farmville.

“We’re here to help make Café Madeleine a destination spot,” Smith said. “If we can get them to visit one location, they’ll explore downtown Farmville and see what a great place it is.”

Café Madeline is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn more about the café online.