The tiny Magical Dessert Bar in Dallas — a place where flocks of families lined up in Deep Ellum, kids in tow — has closed after a rainbow of problems, including sewer issues, lack of seating and allegations that the sweets shop didn't bake its own desserts.
But owners Javeria and Usman Babar aren't giving up the unicorn-themed business. Quite the opposite: They're expanding to at least four more cities, including Fort Worth, and plan to open a much bigger Magical Dessert Bar in Deep Ellum this spring.
The new Dallas store will be called House of Unicorn by Magical Dessert Bar. It'll be part dessert shop, part art installation, all designed for kids.
"We're combining art installations and restaurants together. Nobody is doing it for kids — most are doing it for millennials," Usman says. He and his wife are the parents of two little girls, and Javeria notes that the new Deep Ellum shop is expected to be "a destination for girls — for mommy and me."
Inside the House of Unicorn, which is still under construction now, Usman has dreamed up a fictional story about a unicorn who lives there. The Babars hope to have a 1950s era Studebaker car on display in a room outfitted like a garage. A light-up dance floor will beckon Instagram users to an area they've envisioned as the unicorn's "dance room, where he parties with his friends," Usman says. In the living room, they hope to hang photos of dignitaries — Donald Trump and the like — posing with the unicorn as if he were a celebrity.
Is it all a glittery gimmick? Yep. The Babars don't seem to mind.
It's not terribly hard to envision the House of Unicorn as a home: The 2,500-square-foot space is the former residence of 88-year-old landlord Al Jernigan. Today, the shop's walls have been painted a Pepto Bismol pink, and artist Sheri Johnson Lopez is painting an 8-foot unicorn mural on one wall.
The owners do not plan to charge customers for admittance into the House of Unicorn — a departure from most of the other food-themed art installations in town, like Sweet Tooth Hotel and Candytopia. Instead, House of Unicorn will sell cupcakes and milkshakes, hoping that customers will shell out some cash for a sweet treat featuring their favorite mythical creature.
Rooms in the "house" will also be available to rent, likely for kids' birthday parties.
When the Babars initially opened the first Magical Dessert Bar in Deep Ellum in 2018, nearly 20,000 people RSVP'd to the opening weekend, according to Facebook — to a shop that consisted of just a counter and a cashier. There was room for maybe 10 people, with a few dozen more on picnic tables nearby. High demand might sound like a good problem, but bad press followed: In early 2019, Central Track accused the shop of stealing images and using them on social media. The article also said the dessert bar didn't make its own cupcakes — which is correct, Usman tells us.
"We have never advertised ourselves as a bakery," he says. While his staff plans to make milkshakes, cakes and lemonade in-house at the new Deep Ellum shop, they will continue to buy cake pops and cupcakes pre-made.
"We don't have time to make thousands of cake pops; there is no money in it," Usman says. "And the cupcakes: We don't make the cupcakes. We don't want to make the cupcakes."
He says the former Deep Ellum shop was also too small. Some customers waited for three or four hours, he says.
"And the line brings more lines," he says.
Despite all those challenges, the Babars have chosen to expand Magical Dessert Bar, not just locally but nationally. It'll literally leap across the country in the coming months, with openings expected in Fort Worth in April; Deep Ellum in May; Santa Monica, Calif. in May; Austin in May; and Chicago at an unnamed date. A shop has already opened in Houston, and people waited up to four hours to buy sweets. In some cases, these unicorn-themed shops are replacing a Chills 360 rolled ice cream shop. The Babars also operate Chills 360s, which were also wildly popular when they opened.
"It was a trend," Usman says of rolled ice cream. One that's mostly played out.
But unicorns? "People love unicorns," he says.
And so it continues.
The new House of Unicorn by Magical Dessert Bar will be located at 3408 Main St., Dallas, when it opens.