Tiny Treats Take Manhattan

by Amanda Perez

Diana Shprekher is a planner. A year ago, she was standing on line in the same bakery, Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker Street, waiting to pick up her cheesecake for an upcoming party at her house. A yearly tradition, she knows exactly how to get everything in order before her upcoming event.

This year, unlike others, she’s planned a little differently. Inside her signature Magnolia Bakery box, vibrant red cake stands out against the white cardboard packaging. On top, a layer of cream as thick as the cake itself rests a swirl mixed with chocolate shavings. However, what is truly special about this treat is that this is not one large cheesecake, but rather rows of hand held cakes waiting to be grabbed.

These miniature cheesecakes are one of the featured items at this vintage-style bakery in New York, along with their own cupcakes and pies also offered in mini size. They are one of many bakeries all around the city now shrinking the size of their sugary sweets.

Not really sure exactly why that’s popular. “Perhaps because there’s more variety. You know in this economy you can give your guests more,” said Lev Ekster, CEO of Cupcake Stop, a mobile gourmet cupcake company with trucks around the city.

The growing popularity of mini desserts is evident at the Limelight Marketplace, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 20th Street, where a Sweet Room is filled with stores, such as Mari’s New York and Baked By Melissa, that each are offering tiny treats. Small kiosks line up against the wall of a relative narrow hallway, each offering a vast selection of sweets.

From cakes and pies to brownies and tiramisu, all types of items are shrinking by at least half their size. Cheesecakes and 3-layer cakes are now the size of cupcakes. Brownies and cupcakes are now bite sized. And even the traditional mini cupcake has been shrunken down to the size of the quarter. Looking at the various treats being sold, one might wonder why this drastic change is spreading right now.

“It’s trendy right now,” said Ekster, “… for the everyday person well, some people want a dessert but they don’t want to shell out the $35 to $45 for a big cake and have to carry that around. If you just want a one-time serving of dessert it’s more convenient this way.”

Lev Ekster Dessert Interview

However convenience comes at a cost. For instance, Mari’s New York offers a half dozen of brownies for $19, which averages out to $3 for a 2-inch brownie. Similarly, Baked By Melissa offers cupcakes in various flavors. But they sell them three for $3, encouraging people to basically spend $1 for a single quarter-sized cupcake.

In a recent 2010 survey by the National Restaurant Association, released in December 2009, restaurant owners nationwide predicted that consumers are now buying more mini and bite-sized desserts, especially more gourmet kinds. So why are people willing to spend more money for physically less of a product?

The main response from people seems to be that it’s both more convenient and controls overindulgence. “I think people will eat and buy a mini something or other so they can eat other stuff,” said Shprekher.

The need to control food intake is a large concern in the United States. With more than a billion people considered overweight to the extent of it being detrimental to their health, the obesity rates worldwide have reached epidemic proportions, particularly in America. With the obesity epidemic still affecting this country, this trend seems to be one of the ways business owners and consumers are combating it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese. However, the numbers have in the last few years reached a plateau, a good sign for Americans in the fight against fat.

“You see these other bakeries and they have jumbo cupcakes. And to me those are like a meal in themselves. You need a knife and a fork and plate for them. But I know I wouldn’t want that. The miniature ones are bite sized. If you’re health conscious allows you to sample them but not overindulge,” said Ekster.

The idea of sampling is a strong part of the growing trend amongst dessert lovers. So much so, that the trend is spreading out into the wedding and office events venue. At Butterfly Bakery Shop, found at the far end of the Limelight’s Sweet Room, when mini cakes were added to the menu, they became a popular item for business people to buy for the office.

“With the mini cakes it gives you that chance to choose different cakes than just one flavor for everyone,” said Butterfly Bakery Shop worker, Yana Kytel. While Ekster and Little Candy Cake Co. owner David Sierra both say that they get most of their business selling their treats at weddings, in lieu of a traditionally large tiered wedding cake, citing wider variety of flavors and convenience for the guests.

With the growth of this trend, the question remains, will it be able to last? And will the effects these tiny bites have on their waste lines outweigh the effect it has on their wallets? For those who are already seeing the benefits of them, the prices are worth the end result.

“…it is more expensive. I mean this alone, is like over $100 for 24 [mini cheesecakes]. But in the city eating less of anything or anything healthier is always more expensive,” said Shprekher.