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Cupcakes are the darling of Beltway insiders and outsiders alike, as they grab one with their gourmet cappuccino on the way to work. Others have dozens delivered to their private functions. Seamlessly, cupcake pyramids have replaced cheese and fondue centerpieces at receptions, where such a foreign sight might now send staffers running to the comfort of a cafeteria.
“We love cupcakes because we all love cake. Cupcakes give us many more flavor options and come in a more manageable size than cake, which makes them so appealing,” said Aaron Gordon, owner of Red Velvet in Chinatown. “I think cupcakes will continue to flourish because Americans’ taste for cake is not going anywhere. Are pancakes a trend? Is pizza a trend?”
Georgetown’s cupcake corridor boasts four shops. However, by now most District neighborhoods feature at least one. The market demand is prompting local cupcake impresarios to prepare for more competition.
Still, cupcakes seem to be retaining their popularity because, unlike other traditional gifts and souvenirs, they are each made by hand, that day, for the customer.
“We are no longer at a point where many customers are asking, ‘Why a shop with only cupcakes?’ People get it. Bakeries are interacting more with customers ... and I think the competition is going to be greater,” says Rachel Kramer Bussel, co-editor of “Cupcakes Take the Cake.”
The popularity of cupcakes in D.C. also was propelled by television shows, such as the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and TLC’s “DC Cupcakes,” which features the crew at Georgetown Cupcake. With the show’s success, Georgetown Cupcake turned into a must-see destination almost as sought out (and busy) as the monuments and museums in town. As Sophie LaMontagne, the shop’s co-owner, puts it: “They visit the monuments, they visit the White House and they visit Georgetown Cupcake.”
Maclean Forquer, whose daughter raves about Georgetown Cupcake, traveled to the shop from western Maryland for the first time on a recent Sunday morning. “My daughter wanted some ‘TV cupcakes,’ so here I am,” she said.
Some locals are finding cupcakes even more enjoyable after dark. Filled with booze, “crunkcakes” are making their way onto some of the hipper scenes. While they are mostly featured at private parties, two spots on the H Street corridor, the Pug and Rock N Roll Hotel, serve them at the bar.
Most cupcake shops will provide nutrition facts upon request. While the price of a cupcake is often ostensibly high, some patrons negotiate with their conscience and indulge.
And in a town known for its souvenirs, cupcakes clicked with tourists since they’re basically edible trinkets.
“There’s something more personal about a cupcake, too, versus a cake. The way it’s decorated and frosted in its individual nature, it speaks to you,” LaMontagne said. “If you give someone gift-wrapped red velvet, it sends a message.”