It's the midweek calm before the weekend wedding storm and SynDee Bergen seems at ease in the cotton-candy pink chairs arranged in A Cookie and a Cupcake's new South Euclid storefront (13953 Cedar Rd., 216-344-9433, acookieandacupcake.com). Bergen laughs while adjusting her bone-white cat-eye glasses that match the powder on her black apron and says that she's prepared for anything. "I'm a 24-hour woman."
Little has slowed in the past month since Bergen and her business partner, Wendy Thompson, opened an eastside outpost to the wildly popular Tremont sweets shop they started in 2008. This spring the duo also consolidated their Tremont storefronts by moving Cookie and a Cupcake into their Churned ice cream shop a few blocks over on Lincoln Park (2681 West14th St., 216-344-9433). Both east and west locations now offer cupcakes and ice cream side-by-side.
The cupcake bubble may have expanded a bit in the seven years since Cookie opened, but the airy morsels never were intended to be a big part of the plan. While Bergen was working as Thompson's sous chef at Lockkeepers, the two bonded over a shared love of cake making. They knew that launching a niche gourmet cake business could be feast or famine, so they decided to include cupcakes as a fallback.
"I keep her in the dream world and she keeps me in the numbers world," Bergen says of Thompson. "We're like yin and yang. We couldn't do it without each other."
And the cupcakes — topped with a special recipe of labor-intensive, cooked buttercream frosting — have paid off. For Easter alone, the duo and their 12 employees cranked out more than 3,500 of them in signature flavors like Cassata-inspired strawberry, caramel swirled with black Hawaiian lava salt, and a minty chocolate grasshopper. And that's on top of the eight to 12 weddings they cater each weekend, which alternate between cake and cupcake centerpieces.
A typical Saturday begins at dawn, says Bergen. Employees gather at the Tremont shop where the baking is concentrated and begin an assembly line of decoration. Bergen then delivers the orders, some of which extend all the way to Columbus. By 7 p.m., Bergen and Thompson transition into a night of preparation for the next day.
As momentum grew, they realized they needed more space for baking. That led to the leasing of the building that would become Churned. Bergen jokes that she couldn't sit still and before long she was making ice cream between her baking shifts. Today, their offerings include flavors such as malted cookie dough, brown butter and lavender brittle, and a campfire mix of chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers.
"Wendy's palate is amazing —especially the savory parts of our ice cream line," says Bergen. "I'm not as refined; I'm the sweet tooth. But that's also why we click. I don't want to eat a gallon of garlic ice cream, but she does!"
Since the move, all ice cream is created one gallon at a time at the new South Euclid shop. Baked goods from the west are brought in for red velvet cake and brownie ice creams. The creative fusions on both ends, Bergen explains, are often inspired by their own culinary surroundings.
"We experiment with combinations we've tried from our favorite restaurants," she says. "In Tremont, we've been in the presence of incredible places. Or a fresh product from one of our local gardens will spark an idea. We'll see these gorgeous beets and think, let's figure out a way to use them."
Within minutes, Bergen already is scheming up a new roasted beet flavor.
"It's a constant process. A cupcake shop never stops."
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