Popular bakery serves up fresh treats near U

Cupcake has become a local hot spot for lovers of fresh pastries and coffee.

Bryce Haugen

After eight years working in corporate public relations in Chicago, Kevin VanDeraa said he wanted to open a bakery. He just didn’t know what to call it.

Out of countless brainstormed suggestions, he chose Cupcake, now a café-bakery-coffeehouse 10 blocks from campus in Prospect Park’s relatively quiet business district.

“(The name’s) friendly and fun – it’s disarming, and that’s how I view a bakery,” said VanDeraa, who opened Cupcake 13 months ago.

The shop’s rugged interior masonry speckled with partially removed plaster gives it an old warehouse feel. A massive blue coffee cup looking like something out of the movie “Alice in Wonderland” graces the exterior corner of 3338 University Ave. S.E., inviting passers-by to enjoy the made-from-scratch goodies available inside.

Each day, some of Cupcake’s 21 employees stock the display cases with breakfast pastries and 32 different types of cupcakes, ranging from rum apricot to chocolate peppermint. Often using Minnesota products, the shop also makes fresh frosting, sandwiches, pizzas, breads, soups and salads – all on site.

“So many coffee shops you go to you get bad pastries, and so many bakeries have bad coffee,” VanDeraa said. “We wanted to be a great coffee shop and a great bakery.”

In the kitchen Monday, employee Molly King, a 2004 University sociology graduate, scooped pumpkin cupcake batter into a pan. Though finding a job in her field would have been better, she said, she enjoys working at Cupcake.

“You get to bake a lot of things and watch people all day,” she said from behind the pane of glass that separates the kitchen and dining areas. “It’s fun.”

On the other side of the glass, University research assistant Aeleah Soine used Cupcake’s free wireless Internet.

Soine, who lives two blocks away on Ellis Avenue, said she likes Cupcake for its convenience, but more importantly for its free refills on black coffee.

“I was at home today and realized it was going to be a nap or coffee,” she said. “So I came here.”

Many students, especially older ones who live farther from campus, eat, drink coffee and study at Cupcake, VanDeraa said. During the lunch rush, the shop serves a wide variety of customers, many of whom work at nearby businesses, he said.

Frequent customer Becka Rahn walked a few blocks Monday from the Textile Center, where she is the education manager.

Before Cupcake opened, she and her co-workers packed their own lunches or drove to Dinkytown, she said.

Rahn said her favorite item is the German chocolate cupcake but has never tried anything at Cupcake she didn’t like.

“Today, it’s just lunch,” she said, reading a newspaper and eating cheesy potato leek soup. “But I might grab a cupcake for the road.”

VanDeraa said owning a small neighborhood bakery is far more fulfilling than working in corporate America.

“Public relations doesn’t really accomplish anything,” he said. “I think food that makes people happy – I think that’s a lot better than improving the reputations of companies.”