Two delicate chandeliers hang from the ceiling of Hello Cupcake in Barracks Row. One is molded from a rusting copper, the other in pink glass.
This old-meets-new aesthetic is well-suited to the cupcake shop’s second location in an up-and-coming neighborhood.
“It’s in a historic neighborhood, so we sort of pay homage to the historic nature of the space,” explained Penny Karas, owner and executive pastry chef for Hello Cupcake. “It’s sort of, just like we are, a new space in a historic neighborhood.”
The shop features a minimalist brick wall speckled with Hello Cupcake’s signature flower sprinkles on one side, with the rest of the space fashioned in sleek brown and pink. It is reminiscent of the Dupont Circle location, a space designed by her husband that has won five awards, and Karas hopes the new location will follow in that same vein.
“Walking into a space and feeling like you’re not necessarily walking into a bakery, but like you’re walking into a beautiful boutique or a beautiful jewelry store, is sort of the Hello Cupcake experience,” she said.
What sets Hello Cupcake apart from the swarm of cupcakeries that seems to have invaded D.C. in recent years is not just its quirky cupcake names but also its community outreach.
Hello Cupcake’s Dupont location offered cupcake-decorating classes to patrons, and though they’ve been on hiatus for the past few months while efforts to open the new shop ratcheted into high gear, Karas hopes to start them back up and expand their offerings in the new location.
“We’re going to do [classes] here [in the Barracks Row location] where you can do a private class, for bridal showers, baby showers, that kind of thing,” she explained, adding that she hopes to do private events for Congressional offices, as well.
And Congress, she says, is no stranger to Hello Cupcake. Karas said Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have tasted her wares, and she hopes the new location’s proximity to the Capitol will entice more legislators and their staffers to visit.
The gluten-free and vegan offerings help make the shop family friendly, Karas explained. She said the shop serves a small niche of children with food allergies.
Hello Cupcake’s first location opened in Dupont Circle in 2007 after Karas decided to leave a career in public relations, wanting to get back into the restaurant business.
“I grew up in a restaurant, and my dad was the chef/owner, so I had been looking to get back into food for some time,” she said.
She worked to collaborate with her husband, combining his love of design with her love of baking to create the Hello Cupcake brand. Although Karas started out small, creating and testing the recipes for her treats on her own, she now heads a team of pastry chefs who help her design the new flavors.
Hello Cupcake offers 15 rotating flavors, not including the gluten and vegan options, which change daily, and a seasonal cupcake, which changes each month. Karas said to look out for “Strawberry Fields” in the month of June, in celebration of strawberry season.
She also hopes to create a Marine-themed cupcake in honor of the Marine barracks nearby. The new location will offer nationwide shipping, so those who can’t stop by the shop can still taste a “Peppermint Penny” or “Prima Donna.”
Kristen Lesino, a waitress at nearby Matchbox restaurant, was another patron who found herself stopping by the shop for the second time that week. She said she had tried many cupcakes in D.C. and found few problems with Hello Cupcake, ranking it above D.C. Cupcakes and Baked and Wired in terms of taste.
Her one complaint?
“I just wish they were bigger!” she said.