House of Cupcakes Finds a Home in West Village

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The newest outpost serving the popular dessert comes prepared with a surefire recipe for success

By Helaina Hovitz

You've got to have a pretty big pair of cake pops to open a cupcake shop just blocks from Magnolia Bakery.

Fortunately, the House of Cupcakes, which just opened at 101 7th Ave South, came prepared. Aside from offering up over 36 delicious varieties, the owners have all sorts of strategies for success up their white sleeves - and Magnolia may have reason to worry a bit.

After Ruthie and Ron Bzdewka won Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" two years ago, their Princeton, New Jersey bakery gained a massive following. Now, they've got Steven Mandell, founder of the Party City franchise, to thank for helping them expand their Princeton shop into a mini-chain.

"He has such a proven track record. We knew if anybody could do it, Steve could," said Ruthie.

Here's how.

"I know nothing about cupcakes, but I know business, and I know the competition," Mandell explained.

"I saw a mother and son sitting outside eating cupcakes from Magnolia and went up to them and said, 'Excuse me, when you're done with those, can I buy you the best cupcakes in the world?' I gave them four, on the condition that they'd tell me what they thought and how I could make them better," Mandell explained.

His mark on the place is unmistakable - the shop is decorated with photos of cupcakes created for every party theme imaginable, from a saucy bachelorette party to a Sesame Street birthday. Also popular are cupcakes made for "gender reveal" parties - cupcakes are filled with either pink or blue frosting, which let the mom-to-be and her girlfriends find out the sex of the baby when they bite down. They also specialize in "break apart" cakes, made up of individual cupcakes that create a larger picture.

Last Wednesday, Zara Stevens, 27, came into the shop on her friend's recommendation. She'd just come from Magnolia where the "pickins' were slim."

"It wasn't looking too good. They only had chocolate and vanilla. Boring. I can't wait to eat these on the bus," she said as she paid for her Oreo cake pop and a dulce cupcake.

With three dozen flavors to choose from on any given day, in addition to cake pops, push pops (like the ice cream variety, but with cake!), and thick, rich cookies, boring is never a risk.

All flavors are $2.95 each, and there's always a special: buy five, get one free or buy ten, get two free. The shop is open late, until 11 p.m. on weeknights, and from 10 - 11 p.m., you can buy six and get six free.

They anticipate staying open as late as 2 a.m. during the summer, since the after-hours turnout has been big.

"We'd prefer two weeks notice for a big event or custom cake order, but if you come in and say, 'We need this by tonight,' we'll find a way to make it happen," Mandell said.

Mix all of this with a little Food Network star power, and you've got a recipe for success, if the last two weeks have been any indication.

Besim Kukaj, Owner of Zucca at 95 7th Ave South a few doors down, believes that aside from having good cupcakes, he hopes they'll also draw "good people" to the neighborhood.

"They're bringing a beautiful face to the neighborhood, and that's what we need. Lots of places have opened and left," he said, calling over his shoulder on the way out, "I mean it, the cupcakes are really good. I'm not just saying that!"

In addition to the West Village space, new locations are also set to open in the Bronx and East Brunswick, New Jersey later this year.

"To me, business is about making friends, not money," said Mandell. "But you tend to make money when you make friends."

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