An display of Red Raspberry cupcakes beckoned customers to the counter at Cupcakes 101 in Bedford this week. Owners of local, family-owned shops said the cupcake craze remains alive and well in New Hampshire right now, despite the national Crumbs chain's failure to thrive. APRIL GUILMET
While one national cupcake chain went belly up last week, business remains rather sweet for some of the Granite State's small, family-owned cupcake shops.
Crumbs, the New York-based bake shop chain known for its super-sized cupcakes in unusual flavors, shuttered all 48 of its remaining stores Monday amid rumors of pending bankruptcy.
Founded in 2003, the company went public in 2011, at the height of the national cupcake craze. At one time there were nearly 80 Crumbs shops nationwide, though as of March that number had dwindled to 65, according to the company website.
Over the past year the company lost a whopping $18.2 million, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
At one time, Crumbs had stores in a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia, as well as an online shopping site.
Crumbs also had a very brief presence in New Hampshire. A store at the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem opened in October 2013 and closed after just seven months, according to mall spokeswoman Lauren O'Shea. Another store was located on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua for a brief time but, such as like all the other Crumbs stores, it has now closed.
Despite Crumbs' failure to thrive, owners of several Granite State cupcake shops said that they're show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Nashua natives Kristen Morgan and Andy Thibodeau opened their award-winning cupcake shop, Cupcakes 101, in Bedford in October 2011.
The two ladies, sisters-in-law who both previously worked as accountants, said their initial decision to open the shop, which also features cake pops and candies, started on a whim.
"Both of us were already baking and cooking for family functions," Morgan said. "We liked making small foods you can eat with your fingers, and cupcakes just made sense."
Since opening their store on Route 101 nearly three years ago, Morgan and Thibodeau said their business continues to grow. Slow and steady seems to be the name of the game, and unique offerings, such as children's birthday parties, have given them a competitive edge.
"We've had a lot of request for beverages lately," Morgan said. "So soon we'll be offering coffee and tea drinks as well as cake shakes."
The women also plan to expand their candy line and agreed they may have to hire some additional help if things stay busy. The wedding season can get hectic, they noted, with many couples opting for a tower of cupcakes or cake pops in lieu of a traditional wedding cake.
"The pops have taken on a life of their own," Morgan said. "I think the two of us have made about 30,000 of them since we first began."
On a recent afternoon, a steady flow of customers stopped by the shop, eager to pick out a cupcake - or a dozen.
"I think cupcakes are still pretty popular, but the key is having a tasty, moist product," Morgan said.
Thibodeau agreed: "You can't control the quality of your products when you're mass-producing them."
For sisters Shelli Shumway and Stephanie McKim, the cupcake business is likewise a family affair.
The siblings opened their bakery, Lakes Region Cupcakes, in Tilton in September 2012.
"I knew the Lakes Region was lacking something as far as baked goods went," Shumway said. "Cupcakes were starting to get popular at the time so we knew that was a good way to go."
As word of their tasty confections continued to spread, demand for cupcakes grew, and within eight months, the women opened a second retail location on Main Street in Meredith.
"We were getting busier, and we knew Meredith was likewise lacking in baked goods," Shumway said.
With a busy tourist season in the Lakes Region, its namesake cupcake shop is still going strong, and many days, Shumway and McKim find themselves calling on family and friends to lend them a hand behind the counter.
Shumway said she believes some of the reasons for the shop's continued success is its focus on quality products and her willingness to listen to customers' suggestions.
"Flavors like Maple Bacon and Samoa Cookie were inspired by customer favorites," she said. "Here in New Hampshire, just like with everything else, we're a little behind the times, and the cupcake trend hasn't fallen out of favor. I think we're going to be around for a long time."AGuilmet@newstote.com