Cupcake bakeries succeed in stale economy

Cupcake bakeries succeed in stale economy

CupcakeEven in these sour economic times, people are still willing to pay for some sweets.

With the exception of Portland’s St. Cupcake, whose 2009 sales were up only $200 over 2008, cupcake bakeries around the state report increased sales in the past year, perhaps making artisan cupcakes as much an escapist item as movie-going during the Great Depression. Two bakeries are even moving out of home kitchens and into retail space.

Artisan cupcake bakeries are a recent phenomenon in Oregon and a growing niche market with about half a dozen bakeries in the state.

St. Cupcake owner Jami Curl says the “definite craze” for cupcakes is growing. “I think cupcakes have become fashionable,” says Liz Marek, the owner of Artisan Cake Company in Keizer.

Owners attribute the success to a number of factors.

“They’re inexpensive, and they’re a great treat,” says Ida Gurule, the owner of Ida’s Cupcake Café in Bend.

And the variety of flavor, cake, and frosting combinations, such as Albany’s Rocket Queen Cupcakes “Squealer” cupcake — a vanilla cake with bacon, maple butter cream and a piece of candied bacon on top — appeal to the eyes as well as the stomach, making spending a couple dollars on something you could get for a dollar at Safeway palatable.

St. Cupcake charges $1.25 and $2.50 for mini and regular-sized cupcakes. Cupcake Jones, Portland’s second cupcake bakery, sells its “jumbo” cupcakes for $3.25 and $1.25 for mini ones.

“It’s the cute factor. They’re just so adorable. People really enjoy the whole bite-sized-cake idea,” says Marek.

Gurule sees as many 100 customers daily, and sales have increased by 100% in the last year, which she attributes to word of mouth, increased advertising and a location on a busy downtown street next to a popular restaurant.

Thaddeus Moore, co-owner of the Divine Cupcake in Eugene, says sales are “down a little bit,” but they are expanding beyond a home kitchen this March after being open for three years. “We’re doing pretty good, actually,” he says.

“It’s an affordable indulgence,” Curl says. “Everyone can seem to justify it.”

AMANDA WALDROUPE