Crumbs, the cupcakery that couldn’t, closes up shop

As the national cupcake chain Crumbs closes all of its stores, D.C. reflects on the cupcake food trend losing its sweet touch. (Nicki DeMarco and Kiratiana Freelon/The Washington Post)

And now a moment of silence for a fallen cupcakery — a prayer for the Red Velvet Cheesecakes that will never be made, a paean to the empty calories that will never be consumed.

Crumbs Bake Shop, a national chain based in New York with outlets in 10 cities including the Washington area, closed the doors of all of its stores Monday after a cursory announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported.

 “Regrettably Crumbs has been forced to cease operations and is immediately attending to the dislocation of its devoted employees while it evaluates its limited remaining options,” the company said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. Those options could include a bankruptcy filing, the spokeswoman said.

The scene in New York was reminiscent of bankers carrying boxes out of Bear Stearns after its 2008 collapse.

The Journal: “I come into work today, I’m happy, I’m skipping to work, and suddenly I don’t have a job,” said Kareem Wegman, who has worked at the store for two years and said he has a family to support.

The New York Daily News“I honestly do not know what’s going to happen. All I know is we’re open right now, and the store is full so I can’t talk long,” said one worker at Crumbs on 72nd St.

The New York Post: “It’s a real curveball for us,” said a manager at the Crumbs in Brooklyn Heights. “Normally, you get two weeks’ notice when you’re closing down — you don’t get one-day notice.”

When it went public in 2011, Crumbs seemed to have it all.

Entree into a market too big to be cornered by Magnolia’s. Cupcake momentum fueled by “Sex and the City” and “Saturday Night Live.” And big, big cupcakes.

Then came ignominy.

Balance sheets that ran red.  (It lost $18.2 million last year, the Journal said.) A NASDAQ delisting. “Substantial doubt as to Crumbs’ ability to continue as a going concern.”

In one day, 48 locations to zero.

Why did Crumbs fail?

Maybe it expanded too quickly. Should a mom-and-pop pastry shop founded on the Upper West Side in 2003 be competing with the many Starbucks on and around K Street in Washington, D.C.?

Maybe it caught a trend too late. Now we want cronuts.

Maybe it was the decor. The very successful Georgetown Cupcake proffers its sweets at a cheery shop with pink-painted walls and pretty window displays, where cupcakes beckon from artfully arranged tiered trays. Crumbs, on the other hand, hawked goods at train stations and in generic shops with plain walls and fluorescent lights reflecting off of cases of cupcakes parked in rows. Not cute. Not fun. Unlike Georgetown, not TV ready.

Or maybe the cupcakes were too darn big.

Let’s speak plainly: The size was a problem.


A tray of cupcakes is pictured at a Crumbs Bake Shop, which specializes in over 50 varieties of cupcakes, in Los Angeles on June 29, 2011. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Georgetown rewards a wait in a line that, on an average Saturday, stretches down the block — with a perfectly coiffed, palm-sized confection.

As Jezebel put it, cupcakes “are single-serving indulgences, selfish celebrations. Party of one. Cupcakes are not designed to be shared.”

Why? “Cupcakes are small, and small is cute, and women are supposed to be cute. Non-threatening. Not taking up too much space. Cupcakes say I splurge! But only a little. Just the adorable and acceptable amount.

By any reasonable measure, Crumbs’s cupcakes are — were — not the “adorable acceptable amount.”

Each one is four times the size sold by Georgetown. According to myfitnesspal.com, a red velvet cupcake from Georgetown has 250 calories and 13 grams of fat. Compare that with a Crumbs vanilla — 780 calories and 36 grams of fat, according to a 2007 NPR report.

Georgetown offers a snack. Crumbs offered an entire meal.

This is just the wrong kind of indulgence — long on calories, short on charm.

And now, it is gone.

Related:

The Post explains “The psychology of cupcakes.”

Missing Crumbs cupcakes already? Try eBay.

 

Justin Moyer is the deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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