Pulse: Chatter: Life In Philly: A Moveable (Cupcake!) Feast

The happiest little business in town

Seven ladies stand on the corner of 34th and Walnut, waiting. It’s 12:02 p.m.
The truck is late.

But when they see it chugging toward them, all boxy and rainbow-confettied, you’d think that Jon Hamm was in there. Shirtless. They hustle to the curb,  squawking, worried they won’t be first in line.

Cupcakes will do that to you.

When the Cupcake Truck first appeared at this corner last week, like a miracle on 34th Street, it was filled with one luxury people can actually still afford—a homemade gourmet cupcake, for $2.  “People were running around the office like a rock star was here, talking about how cool it was and how great they were,” says one nurse from Penn. Today, she orders six—two red velvets with cream cheese frosting, two pumpkin, one vanilla ganache, one chocolate peanut butter. She claims she’s sharing.

In less than five minutes, there are 12 more people in line. Then eight more, including a guy who follows the truck on Twitter. Today’s tweet: “University City. 34th and Walnut.” Tomorrow: “Temple Campus @ 12th and Montgomery @ Noon.” Friday: “20th and Arch … Be there at noon until I run out!”

Kate Carrara (top left)—a.k.a. the Cupcake Lady of Buttercream cupcakes—hopes to run out of the 360 cupcakes she crammed into the truck this morning, after baking and frosting and sprinkle-ing them last night. It’s looking good—she’s been here 45 minutes, and needs to get singles from the bank … for the second time. Afraid the teller might be mad, she brings cupcakes. “There’s nothing that a cupcake doesn’t make better,” says Carrara, 34, entirely un-Betty-Crocker-like in red pumps and a tight black skirt.

She should know. Before cupcakes, Carrara was a lawyer, surrounded every day by sad and angry people. “I was a psychic sponge for unhappiness,” she says. So she quit, and soon after, had this epiphany: A cupcake truck! Genius! “Now, I’m the opposite.”

But making Philly happy—a cupcake at a time—comes at a price. To make the $20,000 in start-up money, she sold her house, her car and her engagement ring. She quit the family firm; she and her father stopped speaking. (“He didn’t understand cupcakes.”) She and her husband, a data engineer at Morgan Stanley, prepped themselves to fail. But last month, when she took the truck out for the first time to Love Park, a line stretched so far down the block, she couldn’t see its end. She thought: It’s working!

What’s working isn’t just the business plan. It’s the choice she made when she dreamed this up: Make money, or do good? “I picked the good,” she says. Because even though she makes what she calls “prostitute money”—nearly $1,000 an hour—that’s not why she’s sleeping well at night for the first time since college. It’s the e-mails, like this one: “Your red velvet saved me today.”

It’s 1:16 p.m. There are six cupcakes left. Carrara starts the engine, and three people come running. No one wants to miss the cupcake truck. And these days, no one should.