Home Local News TRANSFORMATION BY THE TRACKS: Birmingham Sweets opens in Hamlet, Axe to Grind...

TRANSFORMATION BY THE TRACKS: Birmingham Sweets opens in Hamlet, Axe to Grind switches sales

Deanna Diaz scoops ice cream while Jude Reader rings up a customer at Birmingham Sweets on Main Street in Hamlet. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — The Seaboard City has a sweet spot.

Stephanie and Zaidoon Al-Zubaidy this week opened their latest business venture, Birmingham Sweets, on Main Street in Hamlet.

The corner-building shop, formerly a pharmacy, features confections including classic candies and ice cream, in addition to games and toys from a bygone era including jacks and the ever-popular prank prop, the whoopie cushion.

The checkerboard floor, swivel-stools and baskets of “penny” candy bring that old-fashioned feel to a modern time.

A display cabinet with antique medicine bottles pays homage to the building’s history as a pharmacy.

Stephanie Al-Zubaidy said Wednesday that there is more to come, in terms of merchandise and decor, including canvases depicting Hamlet in the early 1900s.

The store had its soft opening on Tuesday, although not everything has come in.

“I didn’t want to not open the doors,” she said. “I figured we’ll make people happy, they’ll come back and they’ll see it better decorated.”

In the coming days and weeks, Birmingham Sweets will be expanding the available flavors of ice cream from its current complement of seven, with plans to more than double the number to 16, once another freezer is in place.

The additional delectables — both ice cream and candies — will include sugar-, gluten- and dairy-free options, according to Al-Zubaidy.

Baskets of classic candies, from caramel chews to Mary Janes, stretch down the inside of Birmingham Sweets.

The parlor is just one-third of the building.

Construction continues on the left side and upstairs.

Since the couple opened Axe to Grind just over a year ago on Hamlet Avenue, they have had plans to open a distiller or brewery on the corner.

“We wanted to get a couple of businesses under our belt first,” said Al-Zubaidy, who is very involved with the day-to-day operations. “I want to make sure we can handle things properly and not disappoint our customers.”

The second floor will either be excess space for people to sit for the distillery or brewery or an event space.

“If there’s a concert in the park, there will be no better seat in the house than upstairs,” she said.

They’re also hoping to be able to make the space available for rent for private parties and events.

Renovations to the building so far have included replacing the windows and repairs to the floor, ceiling and roof.

The former Birmingham Drug building on Hamlet’s Main Street is in the midst of a transformation.

Mike Ruff, who works at Axe to Grind, says he has seen breweries transform towns across the state.

Despite keeping the name, Axe to Grind has shifted from hatchets and coffee to Hatchet Brewing Company beer and comedy — as well as other entertainment.

“We found that our customers really resonated more with our food and they resonated more with any event that we had … so we looked at our menu, we looked at what capacities we had in the kitchen,” Al-Zubaidy said.


And that led to adding pizza. But not just your average pies: “We do shrimp pizza or Thai pizza, cheeseburger pizza or something funky.”

Ruff, a certified craft beer judge, has been responsible for bringing in a wide variety of brews to the store, with 42 available including several on tap. The store also offers free beer tastings on Saturday evenings.

Mike Ruff pours a glass of Volcano Sauce, a sour ale made by Aslin Beer Company, at Axe to Grind in Hamlet.

In addition to his knowledge of beer, Ruff also has a theater background and Zaidoon Al-Zubaidy has connections to comedy.

“So they said, ‘We need a stage,’” Stephanie Al-Zubaidy recalled.

The former axe-throwing space has been transformed into a performance room with a stage, lights and sound system and the business is now hosting karaoke, open-mic and comedy nights, in addition to live music and music bingo.

Hamlet native Jonathan Robinson and his band will be performing June 30.

The first comedy night was held last week and comedian J Bliss will take the stage May 25.

“It seems to have been a good play for us.”

The stage at Axe to Grind sits ready to host karaoke, comedy and live music.

Al-Zubaidy said there are also plans to add disc golf and cornhole boards behind the shop.

All of the local businesses, many of which have sprouted within the past two years, are starting to work together to promote Hamlet, she continued.

“People forget we’re here,” she said. “They don’t think about coming to Hamlet for a night of fun, they go to Southern Pines.”

Al-Zubaidy said there is a core group who frequent Axe to Grind and Hail Mary’s Tavern — across the street from Birmingham — “and we love those customers … but, we want to build” so the businesses can be busy at the same time.

Hail Mary’s, in addition to karaoke, has also started booking bands, with Robinson, Erik Hawks and Dark Horse Duo already on the schedule in the coming months.

“We want to have a fun place to be,” she said of the Hamlet business community. “We want to be the place where, (when) you come to Hamlet, you know you’re going to have a good time any night of the week.”

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.