Local stores still feel sweet on cupcakes, despite Crumbs’ crumbling nationwide (update)
Crumbs Cupcake is done, but it doesn’t mean cupcakes are over. Local businesses such as Sweet Cupcakes and Kickass Cupcakes say they are doing business as usual and launching flavors for the summer, and cupcakes continue to be showcased on the counters of bakeries such as Crema Café and Finale.
Crumbs, until recently the nation’s largest cupcakes-only chain, shut down its stores nationwide last week, including two in Boston. Founded in 2003, the New York company went public in 2011 for $13 per share but closed at 11 cents a share by the end of last month, and the cupcake empire’s failure has been seen as the possible end of the “Sex and the City”-era cupcake fad.
But Kickass Cupcakes, on Highland Avenue in Somerville, still enjoys brisk business after its launch seven years by Kevin Ross and his wife, Sarah. Ross said he was shocked to hear the failure of Crumbs, but guessed much of the problem lay in Crumb’s business strategies.
“I still feel optimistic about cupcakes,” Ross said.
He pointed out Cookie Dough, Caramel Mochiatto, Strawberry Shortcake and Red Velvet as best-sellers, and said Kickass focuses on flavors rather than expansion.
Update on Aug. 8, 2014: According to Boston Restaurant Talk, Kickass Cupcakes has closed, and Eater notes that a company ordering from Kickass “got an email stating that they had closed. Kickass Cupcakes’ Facebook page disappeared some time this week, and the last Twitter dispatches are from Friday, July 26.”
“We use natural ingredients, and we never do artificial flavors,” Ross said. Cookie Dough, for example, contains chocolate chip cookie dough in a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream. Chocolate Raspberry Kiss is made for people who can’t don’t like their treats too sweet. Kickass is now offering vegan customers Peach Melba, a vanilla cupcake with peach icing, but the vegan menu changes every four months. The store also breaks away from the traditional with flavor names such as the Mojito, Lucky and Green Monster – named in honor of the Red Sox and Fenway Park, it has chocolate cake with a little Samuel Adams beer stout ganache in the center.
“Our best season is usually spring and fall. Our customers include students from MIT, Harvard, Tufts and businesses such as Google. We do cupcakes for lots of their events,” Ross said. The store also delivers across Greater Boston and as far as Needham and Newton, as long as more than a dozen cupcakes are ordered.
Daily sales range from 300 to 1,000, jumping when the store caters events, Ross said. He admitted summer is not a good season for cupcakes.
“Summer is a bit slower for us, because the students are gone,” agreed Charlotte Emslie, who works for Sweet Cupcakes in Harvard Square. “But we are extremely busy for holidays and we offer specialized cupcakes for days like Halloween, and Independence Day.”
Still, even with most students gone, Sweet in Harvard Square has a steady stream of customers, she said, noting visitors to a tourist destination estimated to draw 8 million people every year.
“Our cupcakes sell very well,” said Brian Berry, manager of nearby Finale in Harvard Square. “We make about 30 cupcakes each day, and they almost sell out every day. In holidays, we make themed cupcakes like a blue, white and red one for July 4. And our customers like them very much.”
A general bakery such as Finale is better suited to surf and survive trends than cupcake stores such as Sweet or Georgetown, Berry said.
“We do offer other dessert like tiramisu and pastries, so we can adjust the quantity of our cupcakes accordingly. But we honestly have nobody complaining about our cupcakes. It’s small, and easy to eat, and it’s cheap. It’s only $2.59 each.”
A cupcake at Kickass is $3; a single cupcake at Sweet is $3.25. Prices at Crumbs ranged from $3 to $6.
Even Crumbs’ day may not be done. The chain filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday and could reopen some stores in a revival led by the business behind Wicked Good Cupcakes, Little Miss Muffin and Dippin’ Dots ice cream.