The first time I tasted Ms Cupcake’s concoctions was during a weekly team meeting which also doubles up as a cake session; a kind colleague went out and bought me a vegan cupcake specifically as my no egg requirement, by now, rules me out of any cake eating. Except for a few biscuit or fudge alternatives which crop up on the table.
I was treated to the ‘Triple Chocolate’ and my, oh my, was it yummy! A bit heavy on the icing but a job well done considering there was no dairy in it at all. Curiosity peaked, I saved a piece for my fellow Veg Revver and, after she sampled it that night, we realised a visit was in order. I was very excited about my upcoming trip. If the Triple Chocolate was anything to go by, I knew I’d have more than a few treats in store for me!
Ms. Cupcake has recently opened (around the end of June) in Brixton, London. The two members which constitute Veg Rev both visited on separate occasions; I went on Saturday just passed and she, the weekend before. Now, for those unfamiliar with Brixton (which I was, and still am to be honest), there are fish and meat markets littered all over the place. The street which Ms Cupcake sits on, Cold Harbour Lane, is actually quite nice; there are a variety of chic pubs and cafes for company. However, getting there is another thing. When I say butchers I mean hanging blood red carcasses. Sorry for the explicitness but this IS a vegetarian blog after all. If you’re reading this, chances are you agree with my repulsion and, if you don’t, we’ll have to agree to strongly disagree.
But, I digress. And that’s exactly the point. Perhaps it’s my naivety of Brixton but I wouldn’t say this is the best location for a vegan yes, a vegan, cupcaketary. On the other hand, you could say the place is crying out for some change. I don’t know; I’m not convinced that the location is conducive but the jury’s out on that one.
Anyone who is a regular reader of Veg Rev or knows the team personally might be wondering why I’m not shouting about Ms. Cupcake from the rooftops. Whilst our main concern is the promotion and adoption of a vegetarian (lacto-vegetarian to be specific) lifestyle, we also think that the food industry needs reforming; a) to cater properly for vegans and vegetarians and, among many other things, b) reinstate some form of service attitude back into the UK. Well, let me tell you, Ms. Cupcake and its staff are a long way from promoting good service.
I went on Saturday with my boyfriend and bought a box of 4 cupcakes. From start to finish the process was a bit painful; we walked in, no greeting. We stood umming and ahhing at the counter, no banter or conversation. We barely received a smile. Now, this is a vegan, vegan, cupcaketary and a new start-up. Are Ms. Cupcake and her staff deluding themselves? The place was rough round the edges as it is, a kind of almost-there shabby chic fifties style sweet shop with little signposting for customers like, for instance, which counter to approach when choosing and buying your cupcake. You also realise, once inside, that there’s no facilities for eating your cupcake or buying a hot drink to wash it down. An uninviting lonely bench and table outside doesn’t count. Ms Cupcake’s shop functions more as a bakery than a trendy cupcaketary and coffee house. That is a major, major downside to the business; you buy a cupcake which you know would be perfectly accompanied by a nice mocha/latte, whichever is your preference, yet you have to trundle off elsewhere to find it. And once you get to your venue which provides some comfy seating and hot beverages, you face the problem that most businesses prefer you not to eat food which hasn’t be bought on the premises, understandably so. Huge oversight.
That aside, you would expect a newly opened business to beam at new custom walking through the door; we didn’t even get a hello. One of their staff was handling cupcakes on a ‘preparation counter’ with no gloves or hairnet on. At least the man serving us put on some fresh gloves. It all seemed a bit too much like hard work for the staff; they clearly dress alternatively and what you might expect from a vegan business. That’s fine with me, I have no problems about that. But I have a problem when I’m paying £9 for a box of cupcakes and I barely get a hello.
Marketing and manners seem to be totally lost on Ms Cupcake staff. We were willing customers, and the only customers in the shop might I add, and we weren’t asked how we heard about them, were we vegan ourselves etc. They didn’t take the opportunity to tell us about the baking classes being run by Ms Cupcake (a little birdie from online told me). But it’s no good me reading about them online when the reason I’m going online is not to check out all the exciting things Ms Cupcake will be doing over the next few months, like baking courses, but to see if I can understand why their service is so poor. Now I’m not going to tar Ms Cupcake with the same brush as her staff because, from what I can gather from my online snooping (I really do care about vegan and veggie businesses’ success…proof of the pudding is in the eating!), Ms Cupcake wasn’t there. Perhaps my experience would have been different if she was.
But anyway, I’m not going to tell them how to do their job. I just think it’s a crying shame. I tasted Ms Cupcake’s cupcakes before I went to the shop. I was expecting big things and I was sorely disappointed. Don’t new, ambitious and exciting foodie start-ups, especially the green kind, need new converts to spread their glories? Clearly Ms Cupcake doesn’t, or, at least her staff don’t think the business does. Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to. There was no business card, flyer or leaflet slipped into our cupcake box which, by the way, kept flapping open on our way to Café Nero. That’s where we tramped off to in order to get our hot drink with our Bounty flavoured cupcake.
I can’t say that I would recommend hopeful vegans, lacto-vegetarians or egg-allergy sufferers over to Brixton to receive the same flat and, quite frankly, uninterested response that I got. The cupcakes are yummy and all, if (some) are too reliant on slightly over sweet and heavy icing to add pazazz, but I’m just not sold. And I doubt that anyone else would be either.And this is where I fear Ms Cupcake’s shortcomings will be: not on the cupcakes (are they seriously egg and dairy free?!), not even on the location or the lack of drinking arrangements (hopefully those will be temporary?) but on the ‘can’t-be-bothered to smile’ staff. Front-line vegetarian and vegan businesses can’t really afford to lose this kind of innovation but, if the service doesn’t improve it will. And I can’t say I’d be surprised, despite the lovely cupcakes.
P.S. pictures of the cupcakes we bought are coming soon.