Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Crumbs Failed

Disgruntling news hit today that Crumbs, the cupcakery that went light speed from local Upper West Side obsession to publicly-traded national chain in cahoots with Starbucks, was closing all of their stores. While many are quick to blame the so-called "Cupcake Fad" ending or numerous other missteps along the way, it's all pretty much rubbish. The Crumbs Collapse of 2014 has almost nothing to do with cupcakes supposedly losing their luster or appeal with the American sweettooth, nor did foolish strategic partnerships with the likes of BJ's warehouse stores doom the cupcake bakery.

The reasoning is much more obvious than that:

The cupcakes didn't taste good.

They just weren't good cupcakes.

They looked good. Towering, massive cupcakes so big you almost wonder if they should have been labeled mini-cakes, or at least two-cupcakes. Each one topped with enough brownie bits and cookie dough to be a full dessert themselves, it almost seemed impossible not to be pleased with what you were ordering. But it was all smokescreen. A classic example of the carpet not matching the drapes. The cake often dry, the frosting almost too thick to consume. For me, the well-adorned Crumbs quickly became the cupcake to bring somewhere, but not to eat.

They looked awesome; they didn't taste awesome.

So, if you are a consumer in a major US city (where almost all of the Crumbs were located) and you tried Crumbs once. Maybe twice. Both times left you wanting more. Then they slowly raise their prices.  Up to a whopping $4.50 apiece. Soon there is very little reason to return. Not when there are dozens (pun intended) of similar, better options in town. In the food biz nowadays, your product either tastes really good and you can charge whatever the market dictates or your foodstuff sells at a pricepoint considered a really good deal. Those are the two barometers and there's very little room for anything else.

Was Crumbs possibly really good before they expanded and a victim of captialism - like many other famous food chains? Possibly. I guess I'll never know. However, I do know it wasn't good by the time it made its way to Los Angeles and that was in the company's more nascent expansion stages.

As for people continuing to claim the Cupcake Fad is over. I point you to Crumbs former competition on Little Santa Monica Blvd.: Sprinkles. Sprinkles now has a whopping 17 locations. SEVENTEEN! They even recently expanded into ice cream and cookies. The love of their cupcake business though has not subsided.

How do I know this? Have I examined their books? No. I took a, well, more anthropological approach. You see, I (stupidly) went to The Grove recently on a Friday summer night, which all Los Angelenos know is an absolute no-no. It was utter, sweaty mayhem. The stuff of horror films. Know where the longest line was? Not the Apple Store or Umami Burger, instead vultures crowded near the small Sprinkles booth tucked in an innocuous corner near the parking lot entrance - and it was nearly 11 pm.

While many would claim all those Grove Sprinkles denizens MUST BE tourists, I assure you they weren't. In fact, they were almost all locals based on their line small talk. I know this because I was in line after realizing I hadn't had a Sprinkles cupcake in a while and craved one. After all, they're really good.


  1. Agree 100%. While I do admit to enjoying the Crumbs' cupcake I had on the Upper West Side circa 2007, the one time I had it in LA, I was sorely disappointed. It was, shall I say, a towering frosting-topped shadow of its NY self. Never went back for the reasons stated above (dry cupcakes are, IMHO, one of the gravest of food tragedies), but have stood in that very Sprinkles line at the Grove, because they are, as you say, really good. Will not be shedding any tears over this loss!

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