Excellent bakeries are rising all over Northeast Ohio

If Cleveland truly is one of the fattest cities in the nation, who can blame us? At every turn, it seems, another specialty bakeshop bursts onto the scene, tempting even the most determined of do-gooders with gooey chocolate and sweet, sweet butter cream. Cupcakes, cookies, pies and cakes — pick your poison, and there is very likely a new shop dedicated to baking and selling the confection. In the past two years alone, no fewer than a dozen specialty bakeries have opened in the region. Still more are on the way. Let's face it: Cleveland is turning into one giant bake sale.

"This trend is by no means something new," explains Kimberly Martin, owner of Main Street Cupcakes in Hudson. "It may be becoming more prevalent here, but there are specialty sweets shops all over the country."

When it comes to success stories, few can top that of Main Street Cupcakes. Launched in 2007, the quaint little cupcakery has blossomed into a national brand. The company, which claims to be Ohio's only dedicated cupcake shop, recently caught the attention of the Home Shopping Network. Featured on both the network's website and during live broadcasts, Main Street Cupcakes are now delighting Main Streets nationwide.

In a city with such a vibrant restaurant scene, it is only natural that the sweets trade would follow suit. Improved access to quality ingredients, coupled with a relative ease of entry into the marketplace, has produced a tidal wave of sugary startups. Going by names like a Cookie and a Cupcake, Gray House Pies and the soon-to-open Bonbon Bake Shop (see Bites), the bakeries are all vying for our dessert dollars.

Joe Schlott always had a passion for baking. But instead of attending culinary school like he dreamed, he made a career selling mortgages. When he and his wife moved into an old gray farmhouse across from the busiest church in the neighborhood, he decided to peddle his pies to hungry parishioners. "We sold five pies the first day," recalls Schlott. "Soon, it was a couple of dozen. People started telling their friends about the 'gray house pies.'"

After five years of farmers-market appearances and improvised commercial kitchens, Schlott opened Gray House Pies this past March in Fairview Park. Business has been so good that he ditched the farmers markets in favor of retail customers and large wholesale accounts. Plans are in the works for additional retail locations.

"There's nobody doing pies — and there's definitely nobody doing pies the way we're doing pies," promises Schlott. "We have a niche." Baked fresh daily, the pies are made with free-range eggs, organic whole milk and ripe local fruit. The company roasts its own nuts, purées its own pumpkin and bakes its own graham crackers for the graham-cracker crust. Gray House also produces quiches and savory pies.

While few may be baking pies, it seems that everybody is whipping up cupcakes. Though many label the trend a passing fad, cupcake sales don't appear to be sagging along with our waistlines. Indeed, new outfits continue to emerge.

Bored with their day jobs at a stationery manufacturer, friends Lisa Zack and Megan Jenny decided to launch Cleveland Cupcake Company. "We both always loved to bake," says Zack. "And cupcakes just seemed to be the 'it' baked good. We liked the idea of something small and beautiful and delicious. Cupcakes always make people smile."

Currently operating out of their Cleveland Heights home, the girls offer a dozen core varieties, including ones with banana cake, chocolate chunks, peanut butter cream frosting and chocolate covered pretzels. Things are going well enough that Zack and Jenny are kicking around the idea of opening a shop. They might be concerned about the economy, but not about the enduring popularity of cupcakes.

"Cupcakes are a good alternative to a traditional wedding cake," says Zack. "I think they will continue to be so. Plus, people have been bringing cupcakes to birthday parties since I was a kid and long before that. I think they have staying power."

Cupcakes may be the "it" pastry, but most retail shops hedge their bets by offering other treats. At a Cookie and a Cupcake, for example, guests can purchase not only a cookie and a cupcake, but also brownies, cheesecakes and elaborately decorated wedding cakes.

That's not the case at Main Street Cupcakes. Walk into this Hudson bakery and all you will see is cupcakes — that is, if they haven't sold out for the day. "We believe in doing one thing and doing it well," says Kimberly Martin. "When you start to add other products to the mix, you are no longer a specialty shop. You become just another bakery."


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