Tuesday, January 05, 2010
We are in what the online publication Slate calls a Cupcake Bubble, which they predict will soon be followed by a crash. I wrote about cupcakery Magnolia Bakery in September 2009, but I was not aware of the true breadth of this craze - that it is a national and international phenomenon.
Numerous articles have been written going back several years. There is a cupcake blog, Martha Stewart has a cupcake book, and shops are everywhere: Sprinkles Cupcakes (international chain) based in California, Toot Sweet Cupcakes in Austin, Texas, Lovely Confections in Denver. Crumbs has two dozen locations, with 18 in the New York metro area. Also in New York, there is Sweet Revenge, Babycakes, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. In Washington, D.C., there is Georgetown Cupcake, Red Velvet, and Hello Cupcake.
This is not the first time that a food fad with shops specializing in one product has taken New York City by storm. In the 1980s, gelaterias sprouted up everywhere and all closed in a short time. Recently, we have seen a similar thing with frozen yogurt shops such as Pinkberry and Red Mango.
A recent New York Times blog posting discussed the sustainability of cupcakes as a business and was accompanied by 99 comments. After reading these comments and several other articles, I see that the numerous debates boil down to a few issues: 1) Can all these cupcakeries make it? 2) Is a cupcake worth $3-$4? 3) Why are they so fashionable at a time when health consciousness is at a zenith? And, of course, 4) Who has the best cupcakes? In New York City alone, there are many cupcake shops.
Many find the confections much too sweet or just not healthy, while others see it as a small guilty pleasure and comfort food, perfect for such times. Some people see buying them at these prices as foolish, particularly in an economic downturn, and others add that the entire restaurant business is built on paying for convenience and that most things made at home cost a fraction of what is charged for the ready made equivalent. Business experts have entered the debate, with most showing how this is a flawed business model. A few, however, do not agree. And there are many analogies - and critiques of these analogies - made with places such as Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donuts.
Cupcake bakers have used several business approaches - cupcake shops, online selling, wholesale distribution, trucks, kiosks, or any combination of sales avenues.
The Cupcake Stop is a mobile gourmet cupcake shop in a truck which frequents different locations in Manhattan on different days of the week. It is run by Lev Ekster, and the cupcakes are baked by Manal Mady in Brooklyn. If you just want a small confection, they also offer mini cupcakes for $1 each, as does Baked by Melissa, who sells from a street kiosk on Spring Street in SoHo. Buying a tray of minis in an assortment of flavors is a common solution to the flavor selection dilemma.
I love the street vending of food and mobile trucks, such as the Dessert Truck or NY Dosas. Making foods available on the street is perfect for the visitor or native New Yorker on the run. Personally I find cupcakes to be a little too sweet, so an occasional tasting goes a long way...