Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cupcake Chronicles: The Cupcake Shoppe

When I was living in Nowheresville Nice, France, I was very deprived of good food, and I had this masochistic habit of torturing myself by watching Hong Kong food shows and cooking tutorials on Youtube, as well as reading colourful food blogs. My brother would encourage me by sending me food pictures he took himself and links to Toronto food blogs, so that I could keep a list of all the things I could eat and restaurants I could visit when I came home (and had no access to at the time).

One day, I was suffering from a particularly violent bout of cupcake craving, so I decided to look for cupcake bakeries in Toronto, to add to my list. I found this link, which is an excellent place to start, except none of the bakeries have particularly high ratings, so either there are no excellent cupcake places in Toronto or we’re just really hard raters. Unfortunately, all the bakeries with the highest ratings are kind of far from me – in the beaches area – so I set my sights on going to The Cupcake Shoppe first. It’s closest to me, I’ve been past it a couple times, and I’ve always wanted to go in, because their branding is so well done. They definitely have the nicest website and cutest illustrations/signs out of all the local cupcake bakeries I’ve seen. Everything about this place seems so attractive, and I was going to go with an open mind, regardless of the paltry, barely-passing 2.7/5 stars it’s rated.

Well, I wish I’d paid more attention to the reviews, because they were pretty accurate; there are good and bad ones, but there’s a pronounced trend towards the negative. The store was adorable, but the products themselves were nothing to write home about – not that cute, not that tasty, and just not all that exciting. I bought six different flavours, and if I were blindfolded, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between any of them besides chocolate or vanilla cake. They were dry, stale, hard and completely disappointing. My mum remarked that mine taste way better, and my cupcakes all come out of a box. She also said that the ones we buy in six-packs from the supermarket are better.

She has a point, because supermarket cupcakes really are good. My super serious, super distinguished ER surgeon Uncle Alex would know; he proves that anyone can have a soft spot for cupcakes. Even he couldn’t resist the ones I had sitting on my dinner table when he was visiting once and asked me if he could have one. Of course he could, I told him, and after he demolished it in the most dignified way I’ve ever seen anyone eat a cupcake, he dabbed his mouth gently with his napkin, set it down and said to me in his very refined New Zealand accent, “Well, those are very nice and moist, aren’t they?”

But you know what? At least 50% of the cupcake experience isn’t even about how it tastes. The quality is just as important as the appearance, the childhood memories, and, in the realm of cupcake houses, the whole shopping experience. A big reason why all these people (including myself) have such a bad opinion of The Cupcake Shoppe is because the service is so awful. When I was there, the staff barely acknowledged my existence and they acted as if they would rather be anywhere else in the world. They didn’t say hi or even speak to me except to tell me how much I had to pay. According to reviews, I wasn’t the only one. The store had all the makings of a spectacular shopping experience – cute d├ęcor, cute displays, inherently cute (albeit only passable quality) product – but the service ruined it all.

So if idiot-proof cake mixes and generic supermarket bakeries produce better quality cupcakes than specialized, boutique cupcakes houses, what does that say about the Toronto Cupcakescape? But I’m not going to let this unsatisfactory first outing deter me. I won’t lose faith. I’m going to continue on in my search of a slammin’ cupcake in Toronto, and I’ll document every step in my Cupcake Chronicles. :)

Happy Canada Day!

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Thats a shame. The Cupcake Shoppe by my work place is awesome as awesome can be. They custom made my bday cake last year in the face of Pucca. It was so yummy it was unbelieveable. That sucks though; that you had such a horrid experience with them. I will admit however, the "flavors" are not particularly distinct....