About a month ago, my favorite coffee shop, Lamill, housed inside the Four Seasons in Baltimore closed its doors. I was so disappointed in hearing the news, that Doug made the comment "Wow. I knew you'd be upset, but you're really taking this harder than I thought." A little dramatic, perhaps, but nonetheless, it was the place where everyone knew my name, my order and that I really enjoyed their baked goods and coffee. (If you're on instagram, you know that I was there. A lot.)
Then, earlier this week, Crumbs Bake Shop closed it's doors, almost in the same manner as Lamill, and by that I mean quickly. Lamill shuttered it's doors a day ahead of schedule with an announcement on Instagram (which left me scrambling for 95 and headed north to Baltimore). Crumbs announced their closing Monday morning and by Monday evening all of the lights in their 48 stores went dim. The country's largest cupcake chain folded.
The bake shop started out as a single store located on Manhattan's Upper West Side and quickly grew with demand, first throughout New York and then expanded along the East Coast, into Illinois and out to California. We had 5 in the DC area, but I only once visited the local spot. To me, it was a NYC tradition.
Every time, in the past 6 years that I've traveled to Manhattan, I would make a trip to one of the locations in the city. It was my "thing." The first time I discovered the shop was on a trip with my mom and our friend Brenda. On consecutive trips, I've tracked friends, my sister and my boyfriend (none of whom really cared about eating a cupcake) all over the city, using my trusty mobile device to track down the sugary treat. Oh, they were so good. On the first trip, we bought 6, cut them into bite sized pieces and sampled each one. That was before the calorie count was added to the display cases. After those were prominently displayed (think 600 calories per cupcake) I would share them with a travel companion or make sure that I had done a lot of walking that day, to account for the empty, but oh, so delicious calories.
The closure came from quick growth and increasing storefronts as the demand for cupcakes grew. At the same time, other chains and local bakeries had the same idea -- to bake the single serving cakes, which ultimately created more competition and decreased sales per store. Other bakeries added an assortment of baked provisions -- cookies, full sized cakes, macarons or doughnuts -- to diversify their goods in case the cupcake bubble burst. Other than a cookie, bar or mini-cupcakes, Crumbs stuck to the full-sized treat until the very end.
Readers who live here in Washington, DC, are familiar with the line outside of Georgetown Cupcake. If you're not from here, let me give you an idea. Rain, sleet, hail, snow or smoldering hot sun won't stop customers from waiting in a block-long line for the treat, which could take up to an hour before hitting the store door. Every single day there are customers lined up before the store even opens it's doors for the day. Do people wait because the cupcake trend is still alive and well OR because they only have 5 stores nationwide (with Atlanta coming soon), slower growth, and ultimately creating more revenue flow into each store respectively?
Honestly, it's hard to say, although I think doughnuts are gaining traction, much of the way cupcakes did in 2008. They are sized for one person, but also easy to share. They are sweet, but can have savory elements added to the top (think sprinkles of bacon or toasted almonds). Macarons are another example of the perfect sized treat, but I think they're too elegant and chic to be considered a "food fad." What do you think? Are cupcakes here to stay or a fad that had outstayed it's welcome? And, most importantly, do you have a favorite cupcake joint in your area? If so, I'd love to hear about it and try it out when I travel!