Tasting the Competition

It’s no secret that Bethany and I want to open our own bakery, regardless of the fear that goes into starting a business. To settle our fears we go around town every so often and taste some of the cupcake offerings in the area. This section is intended to critique the other cupcake shops – I don’t want to put anyone on blast, I’m just giving my own honest opinion of my experience with these establishments.

Criteria for my experience includes customer service, cupcake selection, cupcake flavor, icing flavor, presentation, cleanliness, and price. I feel that encompasses the criteria most consumers evaluate when they shop anywhere.

**Let me start by outlining my own personal taste in cupcakes – maybe it will help to portray my POV. I love cupcakes with distinct flavors – if it says it’s a lemon cupcake, I don’t want to have to sit and think about whether or not I taste lemon. It should be front and center. I like my cupcake to resemble a dessert – I don’t think it’s creative to make a savory version of a popular flavor. When it’s all said and done, I should feel like I’ve just eaten a dessert, not a bran muffin with frosting. So yes, sweetness is a very big part of that. I don’t like buttercream with butter in it. Butter has a flavor that distracts from the flavor the frosting is supposed to be (I disagree with the health benefits of using butter over shortening – they’re both terrible for you). Also, I like a lot of frosting with my cupcakes. If the frosting is good, I have more to enjoy. If the frosting is bad, I have the freedom to remove it from the cupcake. I think red velvet cupcakes should only be served with cream cheese frosting, not buttercream. It’s the only way to eat red velvet cake, in my opinion. Also, with any cupcake, I like the cake to have just as much flavor as the frosting, and I prefer velvety, dense cake rather than fluffy, crumbly cake. The mouth feel is significantly better in my opinion. That being said, those are the guidelines I use when baking my own cakes. Now, hopefully, you can compare my preferences to my opinions and determine if you would agree with my reviews or not. :-)**

Gigi’s Cupcakes

http://www.gigiscupcakesusa.com/

Last week at work I was told about a place called Gigi’s cupcakes located in The Woodlands, TX so of course I decided to check them out. A coworker mentioned that she wanted to go too, so I invited her along with my wife and me. By the time we decided to take the trip out there, we ended up inviting Bethany’s friend Ashley along too. Ashley is also really big into cupcakes, so it was nice to have another “professional” critic along for the ride. So the 4 of us went out to The Woodlands on Saturday for lunch and then cupcakes. Gigi’s is in a horrible location…it’s in a small strip mall that’s tucked away behind a bunch of trees – so you can’t see it from any of the nearby streets. That’s how the whole area is though – apparently hiding everything behind trees cuts down on the commercial “litter” in that ritzy area of town.

Gigi’s is just a small little bakery – very clean inside and a very typical ambiance – greens, pinks, and browns everywhere. They have 11 flavors on display everyday, and the display was very well done. I liked how the counter had two display cases, one on each side of the register.  The girl behind the counter was very friendly, and the cupcakes looked great. Between the 4 of us we ordered a Midnight Magic (Chocolate), Red Velvet, Strawberry Lemonade, Banana Cream Pie, Wedding Cake, and Pistachio.  The midnight magic had incredible chocolate frosting, but the rest of the cupcakes had nauseatingly sweet frosting and disgustingly bland, rubbery cake.  The pistachio literally tasted like nothing. It had no flavor whatsoever, and the Wedding cake was just white cake with vanilla frosting. My assumption, along with Ashley’s, was that wedding cake is traditionally almond flavored. That aside, all of the cakes were extremely disappointing. We didn’t finish a single cupcake on the table, despite having spent just under $20 for all of them.

Jezebel (www.modernluxury.com/jezebel) even named Gigi’s as the best cupcake in Atlanta for 2011 AND 2012. Atlanta must be doing something The Woodlands isn’t, because I still can’t figure that one out.

Gigi’s is a national chain of cupcake bakeries. That being said, we wondered if the cakes are baked elsewhere and then shipped to the different franchises. That’s the only explanation we can think of for such disgusting, chewy cake. None of us enjoyed the experience. We also thought it was tacky that the cupcakes were served in Styrofoam bowls for dine-in customers.

The cupcakes looked great though, and they had lots of frosting, which I would have otherwise enjoyed.

Gigi's Midnight MagicGigi's strawberry lemonadeGigi's Red VelvetGigi's Wedding CakeGigi's PistachioGigi's Banana Cream

L-R: Midnight Magic, Strawberry Lemonade, Red Velvet, Wedding Cake, Pistachio, and Banana Cream Pie.

Ooh Lala Sweets

http://www.oohlalasweets.com

On a recommendation from a friend, I decided to take the whole family out to try out the cupcakes at Ooh Lala Sweets in Town and Country Village.

This is the first bakery I’ve been to in Houston that offers jumbo cupcakes, and they’re priced the same as regular cupcakes everywhere else I’ve been – $3.25 each.  I bought their cupcake of the month which was lemon, Bethany got the ultimate chocolate cupcake. My mom got the Skinny Cupcake (angel food cake, berries, and powdered sugar), vanilla, and the carrot cake cupcake. I tried all of them except the angel food cake, and I have to say – so far they’re the best cupcakes we’ve had in Houston. The texture of the cake was something to note, however. It was like a pound cake or dense sponge cake more so than a light, velvety cupcake. I’m still not really sure how I feel about it. The frostings were smooth, and blended well with the flavor of the cakes. They have about a dozen regular flavors, and a rotation of 15 daily flavors, according to their menu, so the selection is great. Their restaurant is clean, but the decor didn’t appeal to me…they have weathered metal chairs, mismatched wooden tables, modern wall decor, and a small private room that is decorated like a royal dining area.

There were only a few things that I didn’t like about our visit…

1) I expected more from a “Cupcake of the Month.” It was just a lemon cupcake with lemon buttercream. It was good, but I definitely expected a lot more from “cupcake of the month”

2) The guy who helped us was condescending…the display for the cupcake of the month only said “cupcake of the month” so I asked what flavor it was and he said impatiently “it’s lemon…it’s right there…” like I should be able to tell by looking at the cupcake – maybe he was having a bad day, I don’t know, but I didn’t enjoy his attitude.

3) None of the cupcakes in the display had descriptions. They had placards that said what the cupcake was called, but no description of it’s components. And given Mr. Snippy’s first reaction to a question, it presented an uncomfortable situation so we all just ordered whatever looked good.

4) Their vanilla frosting was tooth-achingly sweet. So much so, that I would never be able to finish even half of a vanilla cupcake.

5) I wouldn’t qualify what I tasted as gourmet. The texture of the cakes were impressive, and so were the flavors, but it just lacked a certain quality.

6) They didn’t show any pricing or availability of regular sized cupcakes. They only had jumbo and mini cupcakes from what I could tell. I love jumbo cupcakes as much as the next guy, but if I’m hosting a birthday party for 20 6-year-olds I’m not going to buy 2 dozen jumbo cupcakes or 6 dozen mini cupcakes. I’m going to want something more reasonable for children. They may be available by special request, I’m not sure. I just know the information wasn’t available up front.

All in all it was a great cupcake shop. The price is definitely right, and the cupcakes were tasty. Not quite as tasty as ours 😉 but tasty nonetheless.

SuzyBeez

http://www.suzybeez.com/

We had just decided to walk in an try them out just as we were beginning our cupcake venture back in the spring of this year. I got the Red Velvet, and Bethany got something Chocolate…the actual name escapes me. I almost always try red velvet cake everywhere because it’s such a tricky cake to make correctly. If a bakery can pull off red velvet cake, it’s a good indication they know what they’re doing.

Customer service was awful. We weren’t greeted, we were stared at. The girl behind the counter seemed uninterested in our business. I don’t precisely remember the context of the conversation, but a customer behind us asked if they were staying busy, and the girl responded in a very snobby tone “yeah – we just got a $300 cupcake order that’s due tomorrow!” I personally don’t agree with bragging or discussing income with customers. I think it’s tacky and unprofessional. Granted this girl didn’t own the bakery, but she sure acted like it was hers. I remember leaving thinking that they’re obviously not interested in selling individual cupcakes, because all their money comes from bulk orders. Which makes sense…as long as you don’t treat the walk-in customers like they’re unimportant. We were both pretty unhappy with that experience.

We took our cupcakes home to eat them. I took a big bit of my red velvet cupcake to find that they topped it with buttercream instead of cream cheese. I’m still not sure if that was a mistake or their “creative” interpretation of the cupcake, but it was sooooo very disappointing. The cake by itself wasn’t fantastic either. I didn’t even finish the cupcake. Bethany’s was better than mine, but I don’t remember being in love with it either.

The shop seemed clean and the prices were fair – $3-3.25 per cupcake. They were standard-sized cupcakes. The presentation of the cupcakes wasn’t spectacular – pretty standard, just like ours, but simple can be good.


Sugar Blossom Treats

http://sugarblossomtreats.com

They had just opened, and there were no tables or anything inside. They had the counter, display case, and register set up, but that was about it. They also had a large viewing window into the bakery in the back, which I always appreciate as a consumer – it puts their cleanliness on display and, in my opinion, encourages them to keep a clean kitchen. So + for that.

The lady that helped us was very friendly. She helped us decide on which flavors to try by offering her recommendations. Another lady came out at one point, who I assume was the bakery owner and she was very kind and helpful and seemed to appreciate our business. It was a very pleasant experience.

We ended up buying 12 mini cupcakes, I can’t remember all the flavors we got, but I think we got 2 each of the key lime, hummingbird, strawberries ‘n cream, lemonade, lemon berry, and chocolate. None of them were terrible at all – they were very velvety and soft. None of them seemed to have a very strong flavor, especially the key lime – the lime flavor didn’t pop at all. But that was my only real complaint about the cupcakes.

The cupcakes were amazing looking – they were decorated beautifully. I wish I had the decorating skills that she has. We were both very impressed! They top them with a little fondant daisy that goes with the theme of the bakery.

The store was brand new, so it was very clean. I believe the mini-cupcakes were $1.50 each and they probably offered a price break for ordering a dozen. All-in-all I was pretty pleased. The cupcakes just need more flavor, in my opinion.


RJ Goodies

http://www.rjgoodies.net/

I’ve never had such a lousy experience at a bakery before. My mom has brought home cupcakes from them before so I’ve had them, and they are really good cupcakes, but the one time we decided to drive out there, we didn’t have a great experience.

When Bethany and I took the long drive out there to see what they had to offer we showed up to find a display case with nothing but vanilla cupcakes. So I asked if they had any other flavors that we could buy besides vanilla. The guy behind the counter told us that they’re special order only, which seemed incredibly odd to me considering all the bakeries we had already been to that didn’t have that policy. So I asked if they had a menu of flavors that they offered since they didn’t have a website at the time, and he seemed confused by that question so he asked a woman behind him and she snapped “no.” Well I wasn’t interested in ordering custom cupcakes, I just wanted to try something other than vanilla. So we left without buying anything, because that’s what they wanted, apparently. We have no intention of going back. A lot of people seem to have much better experiences than we did, but I loathe the idea of supporting a business that would treat even one customer like that.

Frosted Bakery

http://frostedbakeryonline.com/

I went out there by myself on my lunch break yesterday because I got the itch to scope out some more competition. They got good reviews online mostly complimenting the cakes and decorations, so I figured it was worth the short trip.

I really like their logo and their website, but when I got to the shop it just felt dirty. They have a very small lobby, and a small display case for their cupcakes, but they did have a wide variety of cupcake flavors. The lady behind the counter very clearly did not want to be there. I’m grateful it was a simple transaction. I ordered a red velvet, s’mores, and peanut butter cup – all three of which I make myself, so the comparison would be easy.

The Red Velvet was on display in a non-refrigerated case which, in my mind, constitutes a health code violation. Cream cheese frosting needs to stay refrigerated. So that was pretty gross, but not as gross as actually tasting it. The cream cheese frosting tasted like warm butter, and the cake wasn’t any better. Very bland, very plastic. Definitely nothing to write home about. They were decorated similarly to ours – with the red velvet crumbs sprinkled on top. They were cute.

The S’mores cupcake looked cute too – it had a white frosting, drizzled with chocolate, sprinkled with an almost invisible portion of graham cracker crumbs, and two mini marshmallows stuck in top. I tasted it and it was just chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream. My mom says it’s marshmallow buttercream, but I think she only said that because she felt that’s what it needed to be. It tasted nothing like marshmallow. Assuming they tried to make a marshmallow buttercream they wasted their time – Marshmallows have a very mild flavor, but even more so they already taste like vanilla buttercream. Marshmallows are made with corn syrup, sugar, and vanilla. The one ingredient that marshmallows and buttercream don’t have in common is corn syrup…which tastes like sugar. So from a flavor standpoint, there is no difference between marshmallows and vanilla buttercream. I’m not sure how they let that one slip through the cracks unless they didn’t taste it, or they just thought “meh, close enough.” either way, it was disappointing. On top of that, their chocolate cake tastes like nothing. I couldn’t taste chocolate, I couldn’t taste vanilla, I couldn’t taste butter….nothing. Overall a big disappointment. Would have been a little better if they incorporated more of the graham.

And finally was the peanut butter cup. Chocolate cake, peanut butter frosting, topped with half of a mini peanut butter cup. Same issue with the cake as the s’mores – just a boring chocolate cake, but this time it had peanut butter chips in it. However, those did nothing to help the cake. The frosting was actually pretty good on this one – it tasted like peanut butter. It was a little more on the savory side and the roasted nuttiness came through a lot more than the sweetness, but that’s ok. I really wish it would have been paired with a better chocolate cake, because that frosting has so much potential for a gourmet cupcake.

The bakery had a dirty feel to it, and I wasn’t happy that the cream cheese frosting wasn’t refrigerated, but the prices were better than any other place I’ve been @ $2.50 each for standard-sized cupcakes. And I didn’t have any big problems with the customer service, but a friendly face would have been nice.

Crave Cupcakes

https://www.cravecupcakes.com/

I went there today at lunch on a recommendation from a co-worker. They’re in a very wealthy area so I expected them to be upscale and chic, and they were, but the prices were still fair at $3.25 for standard-sized cupcakes.

Very clean bakery, very modern decor. Cupcakes are displayed on a glass shelf between the “dining” area and the kitchen. Kinda nice, but kind of awkward because the entire kitchen staff is about 10 feet away watching you eat lol. I took mine to go for that reason…and that I felt so out of place in such a ritzy area. The cupcakes are all decorated the same way with their proprietary frosting method and a little round “stamp” thats embossed with a silhouette of their mixer (I guess they sell mixers too?)

The lady behind the counter wasn’t paying attention and two ladies that walked in well after me got helped before I did, but it happens. I got my two cupcakes (red velvet and lemon) and went back to work to eat them.

Both of the cupcakes were absolutely horrible. Both of them have very skeet amounts of frosting which I guess is just a matter of preference, but the red velvet has some hybrid cream-cheese-flavored buttercream frosting on it that is so horribly sweet and not very tasty. The cake by itself is ok…it has a strong chocolate flavor, but it also has a weird lingering flavor and smell that’s off-putting. It was very moist, but almost to the point of being undercooked. The lemon cake has lemon buttercream that is loaded with lemon zest to the point where it feels like coconut. It also results in a more bitter flavor that I’m not very keen on. I didn’t enjoy either cupcake and didn’t eat more than two bites of each.

Crave Cupcakes has two locations in Houston – the Galleria and on Kirby south of 59. I went to the Galleria location. They had a pretty good selection on display – roughly 12 or so different flavors. The customer service wasn’t awful, but I felt like I was at a McDonald’s; the ladies weren’t very talkative or peppy, they just took the orders and put them in a box without saying much of anything. Not necessarily a problem, but just an area with room for improvement.

Well, that’s all the cupcakes I’ve tried around here so far. I’ll be sure to post up more cupcake reviews when I get around to tasting them all 😉 If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!


The Cupcakery

http://www.thecupcakery.com/

The cupcakes were REALLY good, and the kid behind the counter was REALLY rude. They also had a separate refrigerated display for cupcakes that required it. I did like how the non-refrigerated cakes were on display in glass cake displays (like this one). It was a nice touch. And I liked the color scheme they chose for the restaurant – pink, green, and brown. And the cupcakes are gorgeous! Very simply decorated, but in a fancy way. If the kid behind the counter wasn’t so impatient and visibly annoyed at our presence, it would have been a very nice experience.


The Cakelicious Bakery

http://www.thecakeliciousbakery.com/

That bakery was gross. Very dirty feeling, and smelled like a wet basement – not that rich buttercream smell that other bakeries have. The lady who helped us wasn’t very talkative or cheery. When she opened the case to get our cupcakes, we noticed flies flying around inside the display, which disgusted both of us, but we got our cupcakes anyway and left. If I remember correctly I had the italian cream cupcake, and Bethany got a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. Both were nauseatingly dry and borderline inedible. Not a very good experience. I want to say they were $3 each, but this was back in January, so I’m not 100% sure.

Now, in all fairness, they have moved to a new location in Pearland since our visit (they were actually advertising the move back then), so I can give them the benefit of the doubt that they may have improved their conditions since then. If I’m in the area I might consider trying the new bakery, but I’d have to really want a cupcake lol.


Treat! Cupcakes

http://www.treat-cupcakes.com/

Bethany and I found a new cupcake shop called Treat! in Vintage Park on Louetta near 249. It was a very small, very clean little shop with a very nice lady behind the counter. We got ours to go, but they did have a couple tables outside for dine “in” customers. Bethany ordered the Chocolate Lovers which was chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream, topped with a chocolate drizzle. I ordered the White Velvet which was white cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting.

chocolate lovers
Chocolate Lovers – It was really good! The buttercream was very rich and very chocolaty! It tasted very similar to hot chocolate. My only complaint is that the cake was pretty dry.

white velvet
White Velvet – the cream cheese frosting is some of the best I’ve had from a cupcake shop. The cake, however, was dry and loaded with vanilla. There was no richness or sweetness to it. It was somewhat disappointing.

We paid $3.50 each and they were larger than the standard sized cupcakes, but not quite as big as the jumbo ones we make. It was an odd size – taller than a standard cupcake, but the same diameter. Almost like they were made in a popover pan.

All in all it was a pleasant experience. If I had to pay for cupcakes to get my fix, I’d probably go back. 😛


Sugarbaby’s

http://ilovesugarbabys.com/

Bethany and I took a trip to Shephard and Richmond yesterday to try the cupcakes at a bakery called Sugarbaby’s.

The place is absolutely beautiful inside. They put a lot of time and money into decorating, and it really works nicely for the place. We were greeted with a smile and a very friendly attitude from the girl behind the counter (something that shouldn’t shock me, but did lol) and we ordered a few cupcakes – I got a red velvet (or velvet rouge as they call it), and a lemon strawberry. Bethany got a chocolate cupcake with pink vanilla buttercream. They served them on these square plates that matched the decor of the bakery, which I thought was a nice touch. Parking was very limited, but we also went at the same time as a large group, which took up the entire back parking lot.

They had a small dining area with maybe 6-8 tables and another small private party area which was being used by the large group who stole all the parking spaces lol. The red velvet was very pretty, and it was topped with a chocolate covered cherry. Not sure why, but it looked great. In fact, all three cupcakes looked incredible.

red velvet and lemon strawberry cupcakeschocolate with vanilla buttercream
But the beauty was only skin deep. Again, the red velvet was topped with a sort of cream cheese/buttercream hybrid. I’m starting to think that they may be doing that at all of these bakeries because of the need to refrigerate traditional cream cheese frostings…and since refrigeration tends to dry out cupcakes, they go with a cream cheese flavored buttercream that doesn’t need refrigeration. Only problem with that is that it’s not satisfying like real red velvet. The cake was pretty good, but nothing spectacular. When I tried the lemon strawberry, the frosting was actually pretty decent – it’s a strawberry buttercream and it tastes like it was flavored with strawberry jam, so that was a nice surprise…however the lemon cake, which is swirled with a “strawberry puree” tasted nothing like lemon or strawberry. It was very dull, and the texture implied that they used all-purpose flour, which results in larger, more rubbery crumbs. I found myself just eating the frosting on that one lol. I tried bethany’s next and the frosting was good…they advertise that they use butter in their buttercream, which I don’t understand the brag-worthiness of this claim. Shortening has only 10 more calories and 1 more gram of fat per serving than butter, but shortening has 3 grams of saturated fat whereas butter has 7 grams. I’ve heard all the arguments for shortening vs butter, and how hydrogenating oil is bad, and yadda yadda, but let’s face it – if you’re eating cupcakes, you don’t really care. My problem with using butter in buttercream is that butter tastes like butter. And that’s precisely why I didn’t like bethany’s cupcake. The buttercream tasted like vanilla-flavored butter. It was different. And when I tasted the cake itself, it had a very dark chocolate flavor and absolutely no sweetness. I tasted the bitterness of the chocolate and little else. Bethany agreed with me and only ate a few bites.

We loved the ambiance, and the prices, and the very friendly customer service, but we just weren’t keen on the cupcakes.

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