Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cupcakes Inc.


A few years ago, I was walking through the Central West End and saw a store sign that read "Cupcakes." I thought, "Hey, that's a cute name for a kids clothing store." But as I got closer, I saw that they weren't selling clothing for kids or anyone else.

They were selling cupcakes. Nothing but cupcakes.

The place was closed, and I couldn't see any of their little pastry products through the window, but I was pretty sure you couldn't make a business out of just selling cupcakes.

Boy, was I wrong.

On vacation in Bethesda, Maryland, this weekend, we went out with some of my wife's family to a Malaysian restaurant (tangent: this place had more typos on the menu than all the tweets on one day on Twitter -- my favorite was "fofu with gralic suave"). During dinner, someone mentioned that there was a gourmet cupcake place a couple of blocks away. All the kids at the table wanted to go there instead of having dessert in the restaurant, so my brother-in-law and I volunteered to take them down the street.

When we found the cupcake store, the line was out the door and we had to wait several minutes. Once inside, we saw a display of several dozen "designer cupcakes," in flavors like chocolate, chocolate squared, chocolate ganache, chocolate coconut, chocolate and vanilla, cookies and cream, mixed berry, red velvet, mocha, and a few others. Cost: $2.25 apiece.

We each got a cupcake. My "chocolate squared" was good, but not great. Everyone enjoyed theirs, but no one raved. In fact, I didn't hear any of the people consuming these cupcakes make those "mmmm, oh my god, this is good" kind of sounds. Don't get me wrong. They weren't bad, but they weren't so fantastic that I can't wait to go back, let alone stand in line for them.

Apparently, I'm alone in my opinion, because the locals tell me the cupcake place is packed all day every day. It has two locations and is about to open a third. A quick Google search brings up designer cupcake stores in most major US cities.

I guess calling your cupcakes "designer" or "gourmet" works in an upscale neighborhood (down the street from the cupcake store was a restaurant billing itself as a "mozzarella bar," which must be for Americans frustrated by the lack of mozzarella variety in their diet).

As for me, I would've been happy with a package of Hostess Cupcakes, the ones with the cream inside and the swirls on top. Cost: $1.19 -- for two! And you never have to stand in line to buy them.