A Sweet Treat Makes A Comeback

October 12, 2011
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Liam Bentinck, Fair Haven, enjoys a “baby” cupcake treat at Gourmet Picnic in Fair Haven. Photo by Art Petrosemolo.


IF YOU HAVEN’T nibbled on a cupcake recently,  you must have spent the last few years at the North Pole. From birthday parties to lunch boxes with weddings in-between, the sweet treat has become the trendy indulgence for just about everyone.

Joely and Anthony Carasia (Piece O Cake, Shrewsbury) have been in business on Broad Street for 18 years and their award winning wedding and party cakes are area favorites. “We’ve made cupcakes from the start,” Joely, a French Culinary Institute graduate, says, “but in recent years, they have become more of a trend and we see moms using them for parties and brides requesting them for wedding cakes.”

Although a dozen cupcake may be smaller than a full size cake, Joely explains, it takes more work. “Cupcakes are very labor intensive as they all have to be decorated separately; it’s time consuming.” Joely has seen customers go over the top on cupcakes with elaborate decorations that puts the per cupcake price above $5.

The cupcake trend started, according to an article in the ***ITALSWall Street Journal**ENDTALS, as a way to treat your sweet tooth without spending a lot of cash during the recession. More recently, cupcakes have taken on a life of their own fueled by television shows like DC Cupcake, programs on the food networks, magazine, newspaper and on-line articles. “But Joely says, “they are a trend and people hosting parties or weddings always are looking for something new. They won’t go away entirely but something else will take their place that’s for sure.”

Even if that’s the case, for now, cupcakes are hot and here in the two rivers communities, new cupcake bakeries have sprung up and traditional bakeries have added cupcakes to their offerings so you can fill that childhood craving for something small and sweet. And with so much emphasis today on portion size and calorie counts, cupcakes seem to have found their niche.

Cupcakes have been around for more than a century and may trace their name to the measure (a cup) of each ingredient used in the mix or possibly the fact that they were first baked in small teacups. In the 1950s homemaking era, cupcakes became extremely popular with moms who baked for and with their children. Hostess (brand)  Cupcakes  were first sold in 1952 and are still popular today.

A decade ago, the TV show **ITALSSex In the City**ENDTALS gave cupcakes a monster push when the cast visited Magnolia Bakery (which still thrives in New York City on Bleeker Street) for cupcake treats. Small mom and pop shops blossomed in cities around the country and bakeries added fancy cupcakes to their offerings as everyone seemed to rediscover these treats.

Monmouth County is no exception with small, successful specialty bakeries selling the sweet treats. A few of the areas most popular spots to indulge in cupcakes are: Piece O Cake in Shrewsbury, Gourmet Picnic in Fair Haven, Cupcake Magician and Sugarush in Red Bank, and Cups and Cakes in Rumson.

The keys to good cupcakes are ingredients, flavors and stuffing, decorations and presentation and each of the bakers interviewed echoed these sentiments. So if what you need for a pick-me-up is something sweet, here are five spots to satisfy your craving.


***BBPiece O Cake***ENDB, Broad Street, Shrewsbury – Joely and Anthony Carasia have been at the same site for 18 and their special order business includes all types of cakes and cupcakes. “You need to be lucky to come into the shop and buy cupcakes,” Joely smiles, “as that would happen only if we had extras from an order.” So for cupcake treats from Piece O Cake, call and order and the sky is the limit in terms of cake flavors, filling and icing. “We work within the customers budget,” Joely says, “but many people think just because we are in Monmouth County, we can do what the Cake Boss does on TV for half the cost.”

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***BCups & Cakes**ENDB, East River Road, Rumson –  Denise Kelleher and Elizabeth Shiftan run a cozy little spot in a building they share with a florist. It’s the kind of place you stop for coffee and a special muffin on your way to work or on the way home after picking up your kids at school.

Kelleher, downsized from her New York job, was interested in staying closer to home and starting a business. She was introduced to Shiftan, a classically trained baker, who was baking for friends from home. The collaboration resulted in Cups & Cakes (the name comes from the Spinal Tap movie)  which does both walk-in retail and catering.

“We opened as a traditional bakery with cakes, pies, muffins, scones, and the like, Kelleher says, “it was our customers that got us into cupcakes as they started to ask for them.” Cups & Cakes prides itself on only high quality ingredients in its baked goods described by Shiftan as “pure with nothing artificial.”

Cups & Cakes offers a variety of traditional and specialty cupcakes and many have special theme decorations for parties.  They also have been asked to make special, cupcake wedding cakes . “We have seen our cupcake business grow especially over the past five months,” Kelleher explains.  “If customers want them, we’ll make them and they are now a part of our regular offerings.”

Cupcakes at Cups & Cakes range from $1.50 to $3.00 depending on size, what’s on them or in them. Packaging is exquisite and take out cupcake looked like a present tied with a blue ribbon.

***BGourmet Picnic***ENDB, East River Road, Fair Haven – Suzette Overien, an experienced baker, has run Gourmet Picnic for eight years.  The bright corner location with outdoor tables is a great spot for eat-it there coffee and pastry or pick it up and take it home.

“Cupcakes always have been a big part of our business,” Overien says, “and especially what we call ‘baby cakes’ –  small, one bite cupcake treats in lots of flavors and toppings.

Tiny cupcakes are guilt free and affordable and “everyone, regardless of if they are working or not, can treat themselves to one,” she says. “I think Crumbs Bake Shop, a high end bakery that has multiple locations on the East Coast has done a lot to help market high end cupcakes,” Overien continues, “and some of that cupcake awareness has filtered down and translates into business for local bakeries like Gourmet Picnic.”

Overine does large special orders of cupcakes and, like her competitors, has done cupcake wedding cakes with a variety of flavors and toppings.

Gourmet Picnic’s cupcakes start at $1.25 for minis and go to $2.50 for stuffed.

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Cupcake Magician, Monmouth Street, Red Bank – It’s only five months old but according to the Cupcake Magician John Nardini, business is booming. “We have a great location,” Nardini says, “and our business has increased every month.”

Cupcake Magician has free parking behind the shop and John says he’ll even deliver cupcakes to Monmouth Street and your car door if you ask when you order by phone.

A former union painter, Nardini said “I got tired of part-time work and decided to go into business for myself. I had always cooked and baked and the popularity of cupcakes was the push that got me started.”

Dee DeBari,  whose family has owned a bakery in Hoboken for years, is John’s fulltime decorator and he keeps her busy icing  or stuffing more than 500 cupcakes every weekdays and more than 1000 on weekends. Cupcake Magician currently has 37 different flavored cupcakes (cake and icing) with new, seasonal, and non-traditional offerings added each week like French Toast or Pancakes and Bacon.

***BCupcake Magician**ENDB caters along with its retail operation and has provided upwards of 600 cupcakes for a school outing. Nardini allows customers to order on-line through his website for pick-up and advertises specials to his more than 650 friends and followers on Facebook.

The Devil Dog cupcake is CM’s best seller but he has had busts too….just ask  him about the “malted milk ball” cupcake, which,  he says “just didn’t cut it and was soon off the menu.” Nardini makes pricing easy at Cupcake Magician with regular cupcakes at $2 and mini’s at $1.

***BSugarush**ENDB, East Front Street, Red Bank – Partners Chris Paseka and Jesse Bello opened less than a year ago right around the corner from Riverview Hospital and they wanted to be unique. “We wanted out cupcakes to be different,” Paseka says, “and you can’t be much different if you have a case full of what everyone else has.”

So, the partners decided on what they describe as a cupcake bar.  “We have five basic cupcake flavors and then you pick the icing or icing and stuffing as well as the toppings.  Yes, it takes a little longer,” they say, “but what you get is a truly unique cupcake.”

Both Paseka and Bello always had a love of baking and cakes for parties and special events for friends and family. “We just decided to make it fulltime,” Paseka says, “ and we quit our New York jobs and began looking for the right location.” Bello grew up in Middletown and the partners liked the idea of a small, walk-around community site. The Red Bank location fit the bill.

Like the other bake shops, Sugarush does a lot more than cupcake retail. Catering is a big part of the business with dozens of weekend parties requiring cakes and cupcakes. They have done as many as 800 cupcakes for a special event. “Our business is growing with some basic, local advertising and word of mouth,” Paseka says. Pricing at Sugarush varies depending on stuffing and toppings but, like the other bakeries, is in the $2 – $3 range for full size cupcakes.

Sugarush has made philanthropy a part of its business plan since day one and each week has a charity cupcake special where a portion of the proceeds from each sale is donated to a local or national charity.



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