Washington’s love affair with cupcakes began in 2002 when lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown opened Cakelove on U Street NW.
And now that people’s ardor for these baked goods is waning, D.C.’s designer cupcake godfather is trying to find a way to bring back business.
Brown’s next big idea: Cake in a jar. The inspiration? His own customers’ complaints about the very product that brought him sweet success: Cupcakes are messy. You get frosting on your nose and crumbs everywhere else. They topple over, and they don’t keep their shape.
“People want to be able to have cake on their own terms,” Brown said. “They want something that’s portable, that they can eat with a spoon and save for later.”
It took Brown a few months to perfect the idea. After that, he set out looking for the right jar, a plastic container with a resealable white lid.
The jars of cake, which include flavors such as red velvet and chocolate chip cookie dough, hit local shelves in November. A number of area Whole Foods stores carry the products, as do Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle and Dawson’s Market in Rockville. GCDC, a grilled cheese restaurant in Foggy Bottom, also stocks the desserts.
Cakelove sells between 2,500 and 3,500 jars a month.
Brown said he is looking for a separate kitchen space, but for now, Cakelove’s 30 employees assemble the jars in the company’s three stores. They typically start with large layer cakes, then scoop them into 4-ounce jars that sell for $3.99 a piece.
Brown says much has changed in the dozen years since he founded Cakelove. High-profile competitors such as Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles have cropped up, and people have become more cautious about their spending. All of that has translated to dwindling demand for the company’s cakes.
“The retail market is completely different than it was in 2002,” Brown said. “People shop and buy differently. They don’t spend as much money on celebrations.”
Brown shuttered Cakelove’s Silver Spring store in January and plans to close its National Harbor location next month.
He will continue to operate Cakelove’s two remaining shops, but said he is shifting his focus to the wholesale cake-in-a-jar business. It’s a more flexible product, Brown said, and one that can be sold online and in shops throughout the country.
“We’re ready to take the whole business in a different direction,” he said. “I wish I’d thought of this years ago.”