Cupcakes, Frosted with Rage

Much like cheesesteakery, the cupcake business is more fraught with more drama than it really has any right to be. Aren’t sweets supposed to make everyone happy? The latest cupcake-related dirty laundry is aired on the Buttercream Cupcake Truck’s blog, where owner (and lawyer) Kate Carrara posts hostile emails, allegedly from Philly Cupcake, questioning the legality of her cupcake truck.

Many of you have heard about the time I got “pinched”, but what you don’t know is that Cupcake Lady gets threats. Mean calls. Letters. People chasing me. It doesn’t happen every day but it is enough that I normally have my guard up. For the longest time, I would just stand my ground and say “I have a right to be here”…sometimes I would move to avoid the fight, but other times, I would dig in my heels.

I have decided that from now on, if someone threatens me, I am going to speak out against it. I have been *mostly* holding it all in, but it is the hardest part of what I do. I have decided to speak about it, because perhaps it will help other people in business.

An email I received from last night (the second in a few months from the same source):

Do u have permits to be at all these stops. You are not allowed to sell anywhere in the city. I will be on the phone with the mayors office and L@I to stop your law breaking. Merchants pay to be in the city to sell their cupcakes and get a location if you want to sell!

Our legal counsel Clifford Cohn,Esq. Will be drafting a letter with our concerns and will be sending them to you, the mayor and L&I in a few days!
Owners,
Philly Cupcake

My response:

Hi again,

I have what is known as a “roaming” license, similar to an ice cream truck, which allows me to go in any location in the city that is “not prohibited” by law. I have a special permit for my center city location at Love Park on Wednesdays, and all other locations where the truck goes are legal. I also pay rent at a bakery in West Philadelphia, where we also sell our products.

As a lawyer myself, I have been doing this for almost 2 years and I am both well aware of the laws and am in constant contact with the city. In fact, it was the city who orchestrated my permit for Love Park, and are working with me on additional locations throughout the city. While I understand that you have a fixed location in center city, there are both Taco Bells and Taco Trucks in the city of Philadelphia, and customers simply choose based on the product that they like. With more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, I have spent over 2 years building up interest in my product, and that allows customers to find me wherever I am.

Have a good Sunday and the best of luck with your business. I know there is room for more than one Cupcake Baker here in Philadelphia!

Kate

I don’t like hurting people but I love this city and I love what I do, and I *believe* I am doing it within the law, to the best of my abilities. I want to make this city better! I want fellow business owners to reach out and help each other, not threaten trips to the mayor and lawsuits. We can be better than this, Philly. Put your effort, time and concerns into making your business better, not trying to take mine down!

Buttercream Blog [Official Site]

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  • http://onecurlyfryinaboxoftheregular.com jen @ one curly fry

    Really? How childish. Philly Cupcake must be trying to lose customers. How juvenile.

  • PhillyPhoodieAnon

    The real irony here is that Brown Betty’s are the only truly interesting cupcakes in the city – there is certainly ample room for more (and while I’ve been underwhelmed by the Cupcake Lady’s wares, at least they were not actively bad – like Philly Cupcakes).

  • Willie

    #1: cupcakes are yesterday’s news.
    #2: Brown Betty is just ok, as are all the rest of these places. See #1. I mean, are cupcakes really the best we can do, pastry-wise?
    #3: I walk by Philly Cupcake everyday and I will from now on have to fight the urge to hock a huge loogy on their window.

  • rob

    did you really just accuse a food product of jumping the shark?

  • Rich

    I do and will always love cupcakes. They are only 2nd to doughnuts.

  • Bloop

    Agree that cupcakes were over way back, but one cannot deny the deliciousness of Brown Betty!! I’ve had to judge, competitively, pro cupcakes in all of the truly major cities in the US (and in Paris where this inexplicably was also a trend) and there is no beating Betty’s. Seriously.
    More relevant: how do we know this email was real?

  • Restaurant Server, Not Cupcake Seller

    Brown Betty’s cupcakes are NOT good. They’re dry and, to be quite blunt, “just plain nasty.” Maybe they were good at one time but they weren’t when I tried them for the first (and last) time.

  • barryg

    It seems to me that this cupcake lawyer is a bit of an attention whore. She knowingly vended without a license previously, and started crying to the media about it when she got fined. It was a successful strategy, though–she got written up in the Inky and even a bit of national attention, all with the slant that she was the victim of some sort of conspiracy against small business.

    So maybe this email is real, maybe it was taken out of context, maybe it is made up. Regardless, it is not very professional to smear your competition in public.

  • Andycakes

    Oh those philly cupcake folks are wacky. They threatened my friend on yelp after she gave them three stars and said their cakes where not moist.

    Brown Betty’s? Seriously people….no so much. Betty’s Speakeasy now you are speaking my language.

    However, yes cupcakes are kinda out of vogue which is ok by me. Bring on the chou creme, the madeline, the whoopie pie!

  • Enough with the Smear

    I think it’s funny that all of these cupcake folks are in a huff and neither of them are on Cupcake Wars, yet Sweet Freedom was. All they do is consistently put out great products. The other great cupcake maker is Elizabeth Halen of Flying Monkey, and she also got a chance to soak in the limelight of the Today Show and The Food Network as well as Paula Deen.

    Moral of the story: Let your product do the talking, and you just might get the right kind of publicity.

  • EL

    The best cupcakes that I have tasted have been from PAMCAKES…I have tried Brown Betty’s and Philly cupcake thus far… Good Luck Buttercream!

  • http://www.examiner.com/herbal-kitchen-in-philadelphia/amy-faith-naylor Cupcake Lover

    I love the cupcake lady. I talk to her every other Wednesday. I will continue to buy her products. And Philly Cupcake’s too. Because they both make a good product, one I know I can trust with quality ingredients. It’s all about location and the cupcake lady respects Philly Cupcake’s territory.

    Also, Philly Cupcake’s “letter” had to be taken out of context. Using text language? Do u have permits to be at all these stops. There’s not even a question mark. I’d just like to believe the “owners” could run a business and formulate a proper sentence.

  • donna

    This just gives me another reason to dislike Philly Cupcake. I pretty much gave up on them when they tried to overcharge me for a cupcake then felt like a favor was done when I was charged the correct price. I figured the prices must have gone up and I had an old price list but that wasn’t stressed to me so “shrug”.

    Also people on Yelp started to complain about getting threatening replies to bad reveiws or nudging people to change it to positive ones SMH. I think perhaps they need to hire someone who has the business savy and just flat out common sense to run a business and stick to making good cupcakes, assuming this is a owner run business. Or fire the individual that was hired to do this job because they are failing at it miserably.

  • John

    I like cake. Cupcakes are an easy way to have cake without buying a whole big cake. Is it cool? Who cares?
    I like Brown Betty. I’ve heard people say they’re dry before and I wonder if it’s not because they are different from most of our expectations. They’re obviously using a poundcake recipe, not the traditional, lighter buttercake recipes that most of us grew up on. I have a feeling if those who call them dry were served a cube of Brown Betty cupcake and told it was poundcake they’d like it for what it is, a really good poundcake, instead of disliking it for what it isn’t.

  • Tony

    You guys are missing the point of the whole interaction. The cupcake lady is a lawyer in her past life and knows the law. She does not have a permit for most of the locations that she stops at. This is standard business permit law in the City and every business is held to the same requirements. She has used her popularity and public opinion to support her flagrantly ignoring the law every day she parks somewhere without a permit to be there. Does that seem fair to any food businesses that sells desserts and pays for the permits and follows all the laws governing businesses. I’ve been following this story for a while. She says she has a roaming license and yet the city only gives those to ice cream trucks and even if she did have it, there would still be restrictions where she could do her business. She says she’s going to lobby for change in the law, and yet, the law still is what it is and until it is changed, she is still BREAKING THE LAW. There is a list of places that are prohibited for anyone to get a permit to do mobile vending. That does not mean she doesn’t need a permit to be in the other places that are permitted and L&I is not going to give any permit to do mobile vending in residential areas, which are some of the locations she frequents. I don’t understand why people are so quick to protect someone breaking the law and not getting fined for her illegal activity. Last time I checked, I get a ticket if I break traffic laws. I get a ticket if I park in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I have to pay property taxes every year because it’s the LAW. I can’t just decide I’m not going to follow the law without consequence. Laws are created with a reason behind them and they were established by the people for the people. If you start just choosing which ones you want to follow or don’t keep others accountable, you might as well as have anarchy.

    So, I applaud Philly Cupcake and the many other businesses (not all of whom sell cupcakes) that have reported her. I also doubt, with her being a lawyer, that what she put out in print was not the whole interaction and only what she wants to portray to sway public opinion, which by the way doesn’t mean squat.

    I don’t understand why people aren’t outraged that they have to pay their dues and abide by the law to live/work/play in Philadelphia (especially with the state of the City’s budget) and they are going to let this one individual get away with it just because they like what she is selling. By buying her product, a person only supports someone who is not a person in need of sympathy, but a person who manipulates people’s emotions so she can do illegal activity. We call those people criminals or politicians. :)

  • Tex

    @ 15: You forgot to sign your comment “Clifford Cohn, Esquire, for Philly Cupcakes.”

  • Tony

    Yes, I am a law student at Temple, but I am not Mr. Cohn. I’ve only taken interest in it because I want to do business law.

  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    Tony-
    “She does not have a permit for most of the locations that she stops at.”

    “She says she has a roaming license and yet the city only gives those to ice cream trucks and even if she did have it, there would still be restrictions where she could do her business.”

    Provide cites.

  • http://www.cupcakesareforjabronies.com rascal b. schuylkillian

    All these cupcakes wars/debates are insane and should be reserved for the lowest common denominator in Philly food: cheese steaks and pat and geno.

    I’d also be willing to bet a baker’s dozen of shitty cup cakes that Tony above is actually one of the owners of Philly Cup Cake posing as a phony temple law student.

  • benji

    you don’t deserve a cupcake, even though you think you do

  • Snake

    I’m just surprised that people will go to a truck or a store to get a cupcake. This is one food fad that I think that I decided subconciously to sit out.

  • Dan

    I am always amazed about people who support “the law” as if it has some existential meaning. There are good laws and bad laws. The truth is that most L&I regulations (these are not crimes, for god’s sake if you’re a law student you should be able to grasp the obvious distinction) are bad: they are pure cash shakedowns that have no connection, or a very tenuous connection, to the health and safety of the food we consume. Instead, these rules are all about archaic and convoluted language to be exploited by the city and other businesses (improper signage anyone). As consumers, why should we care about any of this? I am a lawyer and I have no idea if she is breaking any laws, what I do know is that more competition yields better products at better prices. For this reason there are serious reasons to doubt that Tony is a dispassionate consumer with no dog in this fight. More importantly, however, I don’t even see Philly Cupcake and Buttercream as direct competitors. Buttercream’s cupcakes are more simple, less ornate, and half the price. She is a mobile treat for the workaday schlub looking to leave work for a break to allow the mind to wander for a minute. Philly Cupcake is a $4+ amalgamation of diverse ingredients like lilac oil and violets and some such with fancy decorating. Not the same. As such, I don’t even get the strategy here. I don’t think those spending $2 for work break treat are going to walk several blocks for a more refined product that is twice the price.

  • Tristan

    How classless could Kate the cupcake lady be. Philly Cupcake is an amazing place to many folks in Philadelphia. I was surprised that an attorney would stoop as low as to post a business to business email on her blog and other places. After researching the cupcake gal and reading only the sound bits she provided in those so called “threatening” emails there are a few facts I discovered about Kate. I read An article where she referred to the money she makes from cupcake sales as “prostitute” money. Wow, so are your customers considered ” John’s.”. What an unprofessional statement to make about your business or consider the source. Even more interesting was the “business partner” Kate had in the first year of business. Word on the street is she was taken for over $3,000 and the girl was young and afraid because of threats Kate made against her! Another professional move for an attorney who plays the victim. Kate, can you provide 100 accuracy for the claims you make against Philly Cupcake given that you don’t make the news, you report it! Please provide detailed threats made by the fabulous Philly Cupcake owners to both the other cupcake truck and the yelpers you claim were threatened. Since you are bashing Philly Cupcake, who I would advise file suit against you for your recent poor business practice, please understand you are a law breaker in every sense of the word. I hope the bar association pulls your license ,if it’s valid! Also, I read and re read the email Philly Cupcake sent you and their responses to your obvious friends and lovers and in no way were they threatening, Ms. Fake Kate! You have quit a spin on information and you play a great victim. I hope you are nit overlooked for next years Oscars, LOL! These guys simply asked you to observe business laws and ethics and advised their attorney could better communicate their concerns to the appropriate parties. Let’s not forget that the article written about your dealings with L&I were because you broke the law. You owe an apology to the owners of Philly Cake and to all those you hurt by publically slamming another business. Criminals do stoop as low as they can, but eventually are caught! I smell the IRS at your door counting the hidden prostitute money you claim cupcakes make you! Shameful Kate for an attorney and self proclaimed small business owner! Shame! Stop subverting and breaking the law!

  • Steve

    As a fan of the cupcake truck who has also been following this story. I would like to inform everyone that all of her stops are legal.

    If her stops were not legal with all this attention don’t you think the city would shut her down. I am sure someone has called L&I to express their concerns besides Philly Cupcake (as their email states they are far down on the list of complainers), but still she will be out selling cupcakes.

    Side story which may or may not add some validity to Buttercream. I have a friend who is in process of starting their own food truck. Well they went to L&I and the department of commerce and both of the people they spoke to told them to talk to the buttercream cupcake lady. Now why would someone from L&I give advice to talk to someone who is doing something illegal? On top of that my friend said that she was very helpful in answering most his questions.

    As for the yelp exchanges she references in the most recent blog, just read through 1, 2 and some 3 stars reviews of Philly Cupcake and read for yourself the mean spirited exchange the people from Philly Cupcake have had with people who simply did not like their product for whatever reason.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/philly-cupcake-philadelphia?rpp=40&start=120&sort_by=rating_desc

    If the emails were not copy and pasted as she claims, I think they would have a case against them (please confirm Temple Law student), otherwise they just showed their true stripes.

    In the end I agree with Dan on his assessment of these two businesses.

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  • Philly

    Way to go! First competition is healthy. And your cupcakes are delicious. 2nd – I’m sure Philly cupcake would hated everyone in the city to know their new location was picketed by union sheet metal workers over and over till they finally got it… . UMM they must still be upset that grad hospital neighborhood residents don’t need businesses that want to cut corners. .. I think Philly cupcake should be fined for a nasty looking paint job on what used to be a lovely looking building. It cheapens our neighborhood… Maybe instead of spending their money on lawyers – they should be hiring union contractors to do quality work and concentrating on building a reputable local, quality business. Good Luck kate, we and many of my friends enjoy your cupcakes.