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Much Ado About Cupcakes

August 6, 2008
UPDATE: One of my loyal readers and friends (let’s just call her “M”), stopped by my office on Friday, to set me straight on my comments below about cupcakes in the Capital Region area. M told me about a new place in Saratoga Springs, of which I was previously unaware: Spa City Cupcakes. Apparently, I missed the entry about it on Steve Barnes Table Hopping blog, a few weeks back. Many of Steve’s readers echo my comments about the trendiness and novelty of the sweet treats. Even though Spa City Cupcakes’ menu items certainly evoke some salivation, I stubbornly stand by my previous opinion – it’s just silly. But I digress. M called me to task on not doing my research…so thanks, M, for keeping me honest. Now, if I could just get you to comment on the blog, instead of coming up to my office and shaking your finger at me! 🙂
Trendy?

Trendy? Or just plain dumb?

A reader writes:

Dear Wendalicious,

So. What do you think of the TU’s article on the latest Cupcake Craze? Is it a “flash in the pan” trend or do you think it will stick?

Shannon from Averill Park

Well, “Shannon” (if that’s your real name), it’s funny you should ask me this question about cupcakes. Well, to be brutally honest, it wasn’t funny when you ORIGINALLY sent the question (back in April – sorry), but it’s funny now.

This evening, whilst driving home from a picnic in Schenectady Central Park (Schenectady’s Crown Jewel), I was listening to a podcast of one of my favorite radio shows, “Good Food” from KCRW in Los Angeles. The host, Evan Kleiman, was interviewing the owner of a strange little website called Cupcake Fetish. It touts itself as “the most comprehensive cupcake directory and cupcake review website!” Hm.

Apparently, this woman decided to embark upon a cross-country journey (she called it the “Cupcake Crawl”), sampling the wares at every cupcake joint she and her traveling partner could find. Who knew there was even such a thing as a cupcake joint? I knew about the infamous Magnolia Bakery in NYC, and the Sprinkles Cupcakes franchise and mail-order shop, but I had no idea that this was an certified food movement.

This website actually has a mapping tool to help you locate THE CUPCAKE RETAILER CLOSEST TO YOUR LOCATION. Seriously. Just look at this ridiculous website’s stats:

690 stores in 17 countries
342 cupcake reviews
83,717 Unique Visitors

Do we really need this? Come on. It’s cake. Little cake. YOU CAN MAKE THEM AT HOME!

But based on those stats, the quest for the cupcake has become a food movement, my friends. I guess it just hasn’t moved to upstate NY yet. There’s not a pin on that map within 150 miles of here, in any direction.

So, to answer your question “Shannon”, I just don’t know. It seems kinda silly, doesn’t it? All this fuss over cupcakes? In my humble opinion, I think that there’s a limit to the effectiveness of niche marketing. There’s only so much you can do to a cupcake, and when people get tired of them and move on to the next trendy thing, POOF! That’s the end of your business.

I remain skeptical. It’s most likely because I DIDN’T THINK OF IT FIRST.

What’s next, you ask? My guess is this: cooking with soil (aka DIRT). Trust me on this one – it’s gonna happen.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2008 10:17 pm

    Really — “YOU CAN MAKE THEM AT HOME!” is all you’ve got? With the exception of fine dining, I can replicate nearly everything I eat in restaurants at home. That doesn’t stop me from dining out. Why? No muss, no fuss, no cleanup. Should cupcake procurement be any different?

    So far, DC’s biggest foray (that I know of, at least) into the land of gourmet cupcakes is Cakelove, which has both passionate advocates and detractors. (Think I am kidding? Search “cakelove” on dcist.com and prepare to be amazed at the amount of pixels devoted to cupcake advocacy — and detraction.) We’re getting a couple of new cupcake joints this year, most notably Hello, Cupcake. Incidentally, this is “notable” because it is right around the corner from my office. I’m not sure whether to be thrilled or terrified at the idea of being that close to so many cupcakes.

    We’re also deep in the throes of the yupscale frozen yogurt battles, pitting Tangysweet vs. Mr. Yogato, the latter of which apparently offers a discount for singing the Styx classic Mr. Roboto. (I am not kidding.)

    Oh, for the good old days of Ho-Hos and TCBY…

  2. "Shannon" permalink
    August 7, 2008 8:57 am

    Aha – I see. I send in a question and it sits for oh…months in your inbox.

    But the minute that NPR does a story on my topic, WHAM! Instant blog post!

    I see where I rate. I’m not hurt. Much.

    And for the record, I almost spewed my tea this morning. Crown Jewel of Schenectady??? Did you actually put those words together in the same sentence? For real??

  3. wendalicious permalink
    August 7, 2008 8:52 pm

    Sarah – Wow! Apparently I struck a nerve! My problem with the Cupcake Craze is that it seems silly (to me) to get so ga-ga over something that moms bring to elementary school birthday parties. They’re just not that exciting (to me).

    Your point about restaurant entrees is well taken – in fact, I pride myself in the fact that it’s not that hard for me to re-create them in my kitchen as well. And no cleanup is certainly a plus (though it’s not my reason for eating out).

    I guess I just get a little Martha Stewart crazy when I see people pay exorbitant amounts of money on stuff that’s so easy to make at home. You know me – I pride myself in my cooking.

    Shannon – in my own defense, at least I did not DELETE your email. I’ve been meaning to get to it, and that’s why I saved it! The NPR story merely REMINDED me that I had left it my inbox for when inspiration struck…

    AND – I will have you know that there is in fact an ACTUAL SIGN at the entrance to Central Park (the entrance off Fehr Avenue, near the tennis courts) that says, “Welcome to Central Park, SCHENECTADY’S CROWN JEWEL”. I wasn’t making that up! I wish I had a picture to post…

  4. August 7, 2008 9:18 pm

    Hah, no… you didn’t really hit a nerve. I just get verbose when I comment after having three gin & tonics! 😉

  5. wendalicious permalink
    August 7, 2008 9:41 pm

    Fair enough. I hope they were delicious!

  6. "Shannon" permalink
    August 8, 2008 10:14 am

    W – you know I’m just yanking your chain right? 😉

    I’ll have to see that sign for myself and have a good laugh. Central Park is very nice but if that’s the Crown Jewel….I’ll leave it at that. This home-grown Schenectadian is guffawing over this.

    Sarah – you’re very funny after three gin and tonics (and I oughta know!!) but I never realized how prophetic you get!

    After some further consideration, I have decided that it’s not necesarily about the cupcake themselves but the original decor and arrangement (almost as if you arranging a floral bouquet) which is causing the craze. I guess there is a certain art form about it and some further talent required therefore creating a market for them.

    I can make cupcakes at home but I sure can’t decorate them worth a damn. However, I am not so sure that I want to pay $1 a cupcake to get fancy decor. Not sold on the idea.

  7. wendalicious permalink
    August 8, 2008 6:59 pm

    Of course, of course. It’s all in good fun…
    Although, my friend at work came to my office today, and said, “Boy, your friends sure give you a hard time on your blog!”

  8. Joanne permalink
    August 10, 2008 6:36 pm

    Sarah, you forgot about Georgetown Cupcake–that’s the latest hit around here. And I’m not all that enthralled with CakeLove. I haven’t made it to G’town Cupcake, but I really want to.

    Wendy, I LOVE cupcakes, but if I make a full batch here at home, that’s a lot of calories sitting around tempting me (and more importantly the hubby). So, I love this idea–I can feed the cupcake demon every now and again, without getting overly fat.

    I’d really like a Kingstowne Cupcake to open up.

  9. Sue and Chris permalink
    August 11, 2008 8:35 pm

    Wendy – funny you should blog about the ridiculousness of cupcakes. The boys and I were in the waiting room of the orthodontist just last week thumbing through Family Life or some other silly magazine and they had a whole section on fancy cupcakes you can make for your kids. I immediately launched into a tirade about what kind of crazy person would spend hours decorating cupcakes and assembling them to look like an alligator so that their ungrateful rugrats could devour them in 2.5 seconds???? At least if you make a cake it will last for at least as long as it takes them to find clean forks, maybe.

  10. Eileen permalink
    August 16, 2008 10:19 am

    Shannon, I don’t know about the greater Albany area but here in Texas the cupcake store charges $3.50-$5 per cupcake… and the mom’s actually get the school cupcakes there… can you imagine spending over $100 on little shannon’s class birthday party? People really are stupid and have more money than they know what to do with in this country!

  11. Joanne permalink
    August 17, 2008 10:27 pm

    Eileen, have pity on the moms. A LOT of schools (including my daughter’s daycare) have a rule that don’t ALLOW you to bring in homemade goods due to concerns about food allergies. You need storebought with an ingredient list. I find it slightly ridiculous, but there you have it. (Why can’t I just bring in the ingredient list for my own cupcakes?)

  12. August 18, 2008 4:23 pm

    Joanne, the world really has gone mad! But I’d opt for the store bought dozen at $3.50-$5 rather than $100 worth of cupcakes. Or I’d skip the school party altogether. Sheesh – is nothing exempt from the crazy world we live in!

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  1. My DC: Hello, Cupcake! « Sweetpea’s Garden

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