Tales From The Cupcake Wars: Crumbs Bake Shop Goes Dark In Rittenhouse

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Remember what a big deal it was when Crumbs Bake Shop came to town? We reported on the announcement, tracked the location in Rittenhouse Square and it even made the news when their awning went up. Cupcake aficionados were honestly excited about this publicly-traded, bi-coastal operation coming to Philly.

Well, now the Rittenhouse location is closed. It lasted just over a year in its space, and such a rapid departure for a proven operation like Crumbs has us thinking: Does this closure say something about us as a city?


Yeah, it does. And after much discussion, it comes down to one or two things.

1) The closure of Crumbs marks the turning point in the war against the cupcake

Cupcakes are stupid. Even the best of them (and, really, there aren't that many really good ones out there) are just a tease--a couple bites of cake (often too dry) and a couple bites of frosting (often too sweet and piled WAY too high) that rarely (if ever) satisfied the longing for something sweet. If it was a bad cupcake, a couple bites was too much. If it was one of the rare good ones, a couple bites wasn't enough.

But what was worse was the whole zeitgeist that grew up around the goddamn cupcake. For a time, it was a fad. It seemed like every suburban mom with too much time and disposable income, every burnt-out professional capable of sifting flour, every hack baker who couldn't cut it in a proper pastry department was scouting spaces in their neighborhood and opening these terrible, doomed cupcake shops. Cupcakes were all over TV. There were a thousand cookbooks written about them. The press (trend-humpers that we are) pounced on the cupcake like it was the biggest news EVER and burned hundreds of thousands of words writing about the one shop in ten (or thirty or fifty) that was actually able to make a go of it just because their cupcakes were not wholly and completely disgusting lumps of overcooked cake topped with a six-inch-thick crown of automatic diabetes.

And that's fine. Trends are trends and the best thing about them is that, sooner or later, the excitement dies down and they just go away. But the cupcake? The goddamn cupcake hung on forEVER.

Cupcakes hung around as a thing for so long that it became cool to hate them. Then cool to hate the people who hated them. Then uncool to mention at all. Then cool all over again, in a retro, oh-that-is-so-six-months-ago kind of way. When Crumbs announced it was coming to Philly in 2012, it was as part of a 200-store national expansion, which meant the formerly New-York-and-L.A. shop was going to have to open locations in places like Omaha and Albuquerque just to fill the map.

But now, it is done. 14 months in Rittenhouse Square--which should have been an ideal location--and the place just packed it in and died. I want very badly to think that this is it: That December 2012 was some kind of high water mark for the cupcake invasion, that it crested and began to roll back, and that now the tide of bad taste has receded enough that even heavily-backed and corporatized operations like Crumbs are in full retreat.

Is this the end of the cupcake? No. The war will drag on, as wars are wont to do. But a victory is a victory and I'll cheer this one loudly from the trenches as I hope like hell that the space isn't just taken up tomorrow by some new place selling nothing but chocolate-covered bacon, cronuts and Korean tacos.

2) The closure of Crumbs means that Philly is getting (gasp) healthier

Now wait a minute and let me explain. If it was just Crumbs closing, I wouldn't go so far as to link it to any tectonic shift in the Philadelphian psyche. But it isn't just Crumbs.

Think about this. You know what else closed not too long ago in Center City? A Krispy Kreme donut shop. And Krispy Kremes almost never close. I mean, they're selling sweet dough, deep fried and coated in liquid sugar, which is just about as close to selling crack as you can get without breaking the law.

What's more, on any day of the week, you could walk down 18th Street and see lines snaking out the door at HipCityVeg while, just down the street at Crumbs, there was...nobody. And while yes, other Crumbs shops in the 'burbs are still surviving, could it possibly be that the lunch and after-work crowds in Center City have just decided that spending four bucks on a wad of frosted cake is no longer a suitable lunch when, for $8.50, you can pick up a seriously good arugula taco salad instead?

I don't know if one can judge the edible temper of an entire city by these few data points. And I'm not sure if one should. But there is certainly a feeling that things are changing in Philly. And that maybe, in this brave new world of wiser and healthier consumers, there's just no room anymore for cupcakes.

Although, not for nothing, but I could really go for an Original Glazed right about now.

Crumbs Bake Shop [f8b8z]

  • John E.

    Or it could just be that $3.95 for a cupcake was too high a price point in Philly, especially when less expensive local options (Brown Betty, Potito’s, Swiss Haus, various cupcake trucks, etc.) are near.

    • Itsonreserve

      That was my thought tool we already had several less expensive and well-loved cupcakes here, there wasn’t really a need for another.

      • LC

        even if Crumbs had a line snaking out the door also, you couldn’t sell enough $3.95 cupcakes to pay Rittenhouse rent prices. the amount of the average sale is just too low.

  • Me

    While Hip City Vedge is vegan, and delicious, calling it “healthy” might be a bit of an overstatement when many of the faux-meat products are fried…

  • Dan

    Cupcakes are for girls. That’s why you don’t understand them. But I will say, these double wides ain’t exactly small. Not sure how Jason (or anyone else) eats more than 1 in a sitting. Though I have seen some pictures of he and art…

  • Sue

    I never had any interest in Crumbs cupcakes, which I heard were not baked in the store, but rather shipped in from New York. When it comes to baked goods, I prefer to get my sweets from locally owned businesses anyway.

  • matthew brandley

    Sweet Freedom bakery on south between broad and 15th . all naturual gluten free and low sugar

  • SC

    I think it’s more like Philly i smore interested in supporting homegrown buisness than crap shipped in from NYC. Brooklyn Flea, anybody?

  • Former Employee

    Krispy Kreme in Center City closed because they had a poor pricing structure and business model.

    They changed their prices 3 times within the first year and each time they went up. They tried to force people to buy dozens instead of a single doughnut and it turned people off.

  • MH

    If you follow the company or stock you would know that they are in the process of changing their model from lease/owned stores to a franchise model and start licensing of the Crumbs name. This will not be the only Crumbs store to close. They just got an investment from the same firm that owns Dippin Dots so there is an interesting co-branding that they will be trying to do.

  • Cronmoax

    Brown Betty still makes the most bangin cupcake (and cake) out there. Buy them.

  • Johnny Stockpicka

    If their stock chart is any indication, I don’t think anything unique to Philly had anything to do with the closure. Just google “CRMB” and look at their stock chart – you don’t need to be a financial analyst to interpret this one.

  • jaded pastry chef

    Perhaps this means the cupcake fad is finally on the out and we can get back to real baked goods in real patisseries? Please? Who’s leg do I have to hump for a great chocolate croissant.

    • Nicecalves

      Technically you don’t NEED to hump anybody’s leg to find a great chocolate croissant in Philly, it’s just more fun if you do.

  • Anne Onymus

    There’s no way HipCityVeg is “healthy”. It’s like vegan fast food.

  • Despiteallodds

    Sidestepping the cupcake discussion… but I do believe that secretly Philly is a very healthy city… at least for the people who have the disposable income and ambition to indulge in that lifestyle (essentially Greater Center City). We have all the tools for it: great walking and biking culture, good veg/vegan scene, good options for outdoor joggers/bikers, a crazed yoga population. Just don’t tell America that.

  • JA

    Ideal location? A high rent district is the ideal location to sell a low cost item that even on it’s busiest day could not sell enough cupcakes to sustain the overhead.?.?.?

    On another note.once again a I read an “article” (term used loosely without looking to see who wrote…and immediately can tell that it was Jason Sheehan!

    Jason, which would describe you best?… “every suburban mom with too much time and disposable income, every
    burnt-out professional capable of sifting flour, every hack baker”…I

    “But now, it is done. 14 months in Rittenhouse Square–which should have been an ideal location”

  • Restauranthelper

    Lets be honest though it all comes down to numbers. That property is say roughtly 1500 sqft and they were probably getting around $100/sqft which puts you at roughly $12,500 a month just in rent not including labor or utilities or the cost to make them. At $4 (maybe $3 profit) a pop that means you need to sell over 150 a day just to cover the food cost and the rent alone. No wonder they went out of business.

    • CrumbsScoop

      The rent was more like triple that amount.

  • CrumbsSux

    It has nothing to do with the city of Philly. Crumbs Bake shop over saturated their business the past two years and spent way too much money then they had. They are currently in the process of closing many of the locations in the TriState as the company is losing money every month.