Foodie Underground: Cupcake Revolution


In a down economy, we’ve seen lots of underground food trends take off. Limited budgets have forced people to get creative, both with what they buy and what they make at home. Just look at the rise in DIY markets; people are clamoring for goods that support their neighbor instead of the supersized box store down the street. Spend a weekend at farmer’s market and you’ll quickly be saying to yourself, “what recession?”

But it’s not just underground movements that are reaping the benefits of an economy that forces us to be on the lookout for anything that falls under the category of “less is more.” An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal posits that New Yorkers’ obsession with cupcakes has become one of the drivers behind the city’s improved economy. Cupcakes, really?

“People still want a cupcake,” said Pam Nelson, owner of Butter Lane, to The Wall Street Journal. “I think it’s kind of an indulgence and the price point is still low. For three dollars people can buy something for themselves instead of spending 100 bucks on a dinner and still feel like they’re treating themselves.”

Cruise on over to the Butter Lane website, and you’ll get a dose of delightful French music and salivating shots of baked goods – it’s easy to see why people feel like they’re getting a treat. In fact cupcake stores are everywhere, there are entire blogs devoted to them, and DIYers know that the quick way to a food lover’s heart just might be with buttercream.

I for one am not a cupcake fan (sorry!), but the NYC cupcake phenomenon is interesting because it’s emblematic of a larger trend sweeping the nation: specialty food. Forget running a one stop shop, when it comes to the foodie movement, it’s all about playing to a niche market, as we learned last week looking at various bike delivery enterprises.

Chefs and even amateurs that know their stuff well are honing their skills on one or two products that can come in small, but well-worth-it doses, in everything from ice cream cookies to take and bake molten chocolate cakes. In an over consumptive society where our choices are often overwhelming, it’s nice to know that people still specialize, and that when they do, they do it well.

Have a local specialty food store – cupcakes or otherwise – that you love? Tell us about it! Either in the comments below or on Twitter, remember to use the #foodieunderground hashtag!

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground. Each week, Anna will be taking a look at something new and different that’s taking place in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to culinary avant garde.

Image: ginnerobot

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.