CUPCAKES BY CAROUSEL, Ridgewood—This offshoot of the 30-year-old gourmet bakery Carousel Cakes in Nanuet, NY came about after one of the owners, Nancy Finkelstein, saw people waiting in a long line three years ago at LA’s Sprinkles Cupcakes. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. Carousel’s location next to a movie theater is ideal—the space is small and geared for take-out. The 40 varieties of cupcakes are mini-versions of the company’s cakes, many made with old family recipes. Finkelstein and her husband, David, run the business with her brother, Howy Lefkowitz. When the cupcake chain Crumbs appeared in Ridgewood recently, their business fell 15 percent. “But we’re still doing twice as well as we expected,” Finkelstein says. “Cupcakes are here to stay.” Most creative: Curious George—white cake with banana and custard filling, peanut butter and chocolate icing. 192 E. Ridgewood Ave. 201-389-3090. cupcakesbycarousel.com
SWEET AVENUE BAKE SHOP, Rutherford—Jack and Danielle Vance, both vegans, started their all-vegan bakery (95 percent of the products are cupcakes) when Danielle could no longer fit her banking job into her daily baking habit. Jack, a computer technician, soon followed. (They also employ Danielle’s mom and sister). “This is much more fun than traipsing around New Jersey fixing people’s computers,” he says. Their small shop is a confection in itself, with its pink-striped awning and hot pink seating. Each day they offer at least 15 flavors (out of 200 total), three of them gluten-free. The Vances use lots of organic ingredients. Most creative: Fat Elvis—banana cake with peanut butter frosting topped with a slice of soy bacon. 153 Park Ave. 201- 935-BAKE, sweetavenuebakeshop.com
THE CUPCAKE CORRAL, Maplewood—Joe Ramaikas’s love of all things Country & Western gives this inviting café its homey atmosphere. Reclaimed barn siding and paintings of stars like Dolly Parton and Hank Williams line the walls, communal wooden tables spark conversation between strangers. Ramaikas, a stay-at-home Maplewood dad, started a cupcake catering business in 2008, and the response was so good he opened a storefront. Most creative: The D’Apple—apple cake with maple cream cheese frosting topped with carmelized apples. 410 Ridgewood Rd. 973-327-2286, thecupcakecorral.com
CUPCAKES GALORE AND MORE, Montclair, Totowa, West Caldwell—This sleek shop with its modern lighting and granite counters was a mob scene on a late summer Saturday, with customers jockeying for space between the baby strollers. Owner John Cifaldi, who runs his own construction company, decided to open his first store in Totowa in November 2009 when he realized the cupcake craze was exploding. As a child, he helped his Sicilian grandmother, an avid baker, around the kitchen. Today, he and his partner Meral oversee as many as nine employees at a time, cranking out more than 75 varieties of cupcakes in the company’s Totowa kitchen. Cifaldi has big ambitions: “I plan on opening at least a dozen more stores in the next year,” he says. Most creative: Banana Split – banana cake with strawberry and chocolate filling, vanilla mousse icing topped with chocolate drizzle and nuts. facebook.com (type “cupcakes galore and more” in search bar)
CRUMBS, Westfield, Ridgewood, Hoboken, Newark Liberty Airport—The Big Daddy of cupcake chains made its New Jersey debut early last year, and will finish 2010 with 36 locations in five states and the District of Columbia. The company was started by New Yorkers Mia and Jason Bauer in March 2003. Mia had been working as an attorney, but, her husband explained in an email, “she’s always had a ferocious sweet tooth, and happened to be a great amateur baker.” With Mia dreaming up cupcake recipes and Jason’s experience as an entrepreneur with a degree in marketing and finance, the company has expanded quickly. In 2008, the couple sold a portion of the business to an individual investor to fuel growth. Another 10 to 15 stores are planned for 2011. “Our goal is 100 stores in three to five years,” Jason wrote. Each store carries at least 50 types of cupcakes a day. Most creative: The Half-Baked—vanilla and chocolate marble cake with a vanilla buttercream filling, topped with half fudge and half cookie dough cream frosting, sprinkled with cookie and brownie crumbs. crumbs.com.
HOUSE OF CUPCAKES, Princeton—Ruthie Bzdewka, who grew up in Princeton, had been baking cupcakes for friends and relatives for years when she decided that a specialty cupcake shop in a college town was a no-brainer. She opened in 2008. Self-taught, she offers more than 25 varieties in her bare-bones shop each day. Most creative: Pink Champagne—vanilla cake with buttercream icing, both pink, are made with pink champagne and topped with pink champagne-flavored candy. 30 Witherspoon St. 609-924-0085.