The Phenomenon of Cupcake Bakeries

By: Sarah Kiegel

Edited By: Jess Matthews


You have always loved cupcakes,but how much do you really know about them and their industry?

From the kitchen to the shop, these tiny tasty treats are no longer just a pastry, but an item with much more meaning than expected. Cupcakes are now being considered works of art in which the baker is an artist using the flavors and decorations to release their creativity. Additionally, cupcakes are surprisingly being used as a form of communication. When Katie Collins, author of “Make Cupcakes Not War,” decided to take cupcakes to school for her Latin class, she learned that cupcakes were her “passion for expressing [herself] through flour and icing.”  After one class she had baked extra cupcakes by accident, and decided to take a chance by asking the tall, rowdy, and pushy senior football players if they would like a cupcake. As they gladly accepted and shoveled the cupcakes into their mouths she remembers hearing “one yell out, ‘This is the best cupcake I have ever had in my life!’ followed by grunts of agreement.” At that moment Katie realized that cupcakes are a universal tool of communication. That day in the hallway Katie describes the encounter between freshman and upperclassman as a “peace treaty.” She realized that cupcakes can be enjoyed by anybody no matter your background, present state, or grade level. Katie says that Cupcakes are a “common link,” “the single bond between two people with nothing else in common.”

 In China, Crystal Ruth Bell is using cupcakes to fulfill a similar passion and goal. Bell believes that through her Cupcake Exchange cupcakes not only deal with the “emotions tied to cupcakes,” but also deal with issues such as consumerism and nationalism. On the weekends, when Bell is not working, she uses her time to bake cupcakes made from local ingredients and then just like a traditional street vendor, she rides the streets on a “sanlunche (three-wheeled bicycle)” exchanging her cupcakes for anything. She has made exchanges for a kiss, a song, or a lesson of some sort. This exchange allows for an interaction “on a number of levels from observation to conversation and of course exchange.” Bell believes that contact with people from different backgrounds “can awaken us physically, emotionally, and intellectually” because we can observe their language and their behaviors on a more personal level. Overall, the cupcakes through this exchange are used as a devise to communicate on a personal level with people from other countries. The cupcakes create a sense of comfort in an environment where difference is apparent.

Cupcakes are baked daily at the Cupcake Company in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

With these new and innovative uses for cupcakes, new bakeries are opening and becoming popular for the universal audience. Cupcakes are evolving from “small specialized treats” to cakes “treated like specialized coffee drinks, infused with interesting ingredients and innovative flavors” (Cupcakes). The bakers are using their creativity as a marketing tool. The more out of the box their cupcakes are, the more people will be interested. With the new specialization of cupcakes, the cupcake industry began to increase around 2005. At that time Sprinkles, the first cupcake bakery, opened its doors. On the Sprinkles website, it says that the Los Angeles Times deemed the bakery “the progenitor of the haute cupcake.” Once this bakery became popular and began bringing in revenue, bakeries opened in cities all across the nation. When I interviewed Renee Brown, owner of Cupcake Company in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she declared that the overall reaction to cupcake bakeries is “excitement!” Cupcakes interest all ages, genders, races, and their range of interest is ongoing. I personally believe that cupcakes have become so popular because they are that one universal idea that is broad enough to interest a group of different people. Within the cupcake industry there are many different branches engaging the interests of so many different people. While some people are drawn to the business side, others are compelled to dream of new flavors and toppings. In my interview with Renee, I asked if she thought there was much competition in the industry. She replied by stating that there is not much in the area, but “in order to maintain a cupcake bakery,” “you have to have a product that is extra special.”

The Cupcake Company treats their cupcakes with class and professionalism.

This extra special cupcake is what many people believe to be a trend that will soon crash like many other fads. Renee Brown doesn’t agree. When asked about the future of the cupcake industry she feels that it does not include a crash and has actually been running a lot longer than we have known. Through her experiences, she has witnessed the rise of the industry on the West coast even before the rise on the East coast. Because of this difference in the rise of the industry, Renee believes that since it has been lasting longer on the West coast then thought to be, the east coast “trend” will be similar. Many cupcake lovers are taking advantage of this long lasting “trend,” and are opening their own cupcake bakeries and proving that this industry is not just going to disappear.

The video above is a prime example of numerous business’ grown from a passion to a thriving business. In the article “cupcake gridlock”, Ann Kingston states that “for grown-up kids, cupcakes are an indulgence- a ‘guilty treat’ an affordable luxury that makes the business recession-proof.” This statement brings the conversation back to the idea that cupcakes are a universal item and that they can be enjoyed by all, even with crisis strikes. In “Make Cupcakes Not War“, Katie Collins states that making cupcakes was her “guide to the greater understanding of this world and [her] place in the chaos.” Ann Kingston also refers to the cupcake as a representation of “the society we live in” where “it’s all about fast, it’s all about convenient, it’s all about individual.” That is exactly what the cupcake provides and that serves as a reason why it is standing so strong today.

Works Cited:

All about Cupcakes. Website.

Collins, Katie, Make Cupcakes Not War, Kentucky English Bulletin, 2010.

Congdon, Kristin G, Cupcakes, Studies, 2011.

Kingston, Anne, Cupcake Gridlock, Maclean’s, 2011.