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Globe South Dining Out

A sweet business plan takes off

New cupcake spot is a hit in Hingham

Sarah D’Souza at the counter of her shop, where customers can see into the kitchen. Each cupcake has a telltale topper, such as a peppermint stick or lemon rind. Sarah D’Souza at the counter of her shop, where customers can see into the kitchen. Each cupcake has a telltale topper, such as a peppermint stick or lemon rind. (Photos by Jessica Bartlett for the Boston Globe)
December 11, 2011
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Sadie Mae’s Cupcake Café has been around town for only seven months, tucked into a row of shops along Hingham’s Main Street, a sweet blue-and-white sign the subtle hint of its existence. Yet already, it’s a household name.

People bustled in and out of the store on the sunny Sunday morning I visited - some placing larger orders for two dozen for a later date, others picking up one sweet to accompany the coffee they bought next door.

Even in a bad economy, owner Sarah D’Souza says she’s seen success.

“We opened with no marketing at all. It’s all word-of-mouth,’’ she said. “People that are coming in here are so delighted that we’re here.’’

It’s quite a feat, especially since she and her husband, Matthew, who co-owns the business, didn’t have any history in the food industry. Regardless, they always knew they wanted to own their own business.

After meeting in and graduating from business school, Matthew began a career in marketing for an online company while Sarah worked in public relations.

They moved to Hingham in 2008 from New York, and when they saw the empty storefront on Main Street, D’Souza said it seemed to beckon to them.

Practically on the spot, a lease was signed. A few months later, they had hired a baker, created a business plan, and renovated the space, opening without any marketing this past May and growing ever since.

According to D’Souza, after seeing what demand there was for cupcake cafés in New York, she and her husband were confident a similar business could succeed on the South Shore.

In a moment away from her hectic lifestyle, D’Souza sat perched in one of the antique-looking wooden chairs at one of the few tables in Sadie Mae’s, white hat matching white apron, blue shirt and logo matching her blue eyes, leaning against yellow, vintage wallpaper adorned with birds. The wallpaper, in fact, was the inspiration for Sadie Mae’s logo, a tiny yellow bird taken from the caricatures on the wall.

As for the name, that’s a bit closer to home, D’Souza said, as she pointed at the only two photos on the wall. “That’s Sadie [who’s 4] and this is Margaret [2], my two daughters,’’ she said.

D’Souza said her third daughter, 2-month old Grace, will most likely get a specialty cupcake named after her.

That’s right, the mother of two was pregnant with her third while opening a business in a recession.

“Family members asked, ‘Are you sure this is the right time to open this? In this economy, and with everything going on in your life right now, it’s a very busy time.’ I had a lot of people trying to talk me out of it. But if I wait five years, I’m not going to do it in five years.’’

Even after seven months, D’Souza admits the couple are still figuring things out.

Most of that figuring out has to do with volume. Currently, any extras are given to numerous charities, organizations, and businesses during the week.

But the shop does have some things down pat. Every morning at 4:30 a.m., the baking shift arrives to start making the cupcakes, made fresh every day. With allergen-aware ingredients and new machinery, the store is as nut-free as possible.

“We don’t put nuts in any of our cupcakes, and we’ve trained our employees in allergen awareness,’’ she said.

It’s also about the fresh ingredients, D’Souza said, such as real butter and no artificial anything.

“It’s an old-fashioned way of baking,’’ she said. “Sort of your grandmother’s kitchen.’’

The craft can be tasted in the large, plump cupcakes, available for $2.75 for regular flavors. $3.25 for specialty flavors, and $29 for a dozen; or the smaller, bite-sized ones, two for $3, or a dozen for $15.

They’re well worth the price.

The gingerbread cupcake with vanilla buttercream tasted like a gingerbread cookie reincarnate. The simple, yet delicate, frosting enabled the complexity of the ginger to shine out. I savored the crumbs.

Similarly, the ice cream sundae cupcake was without compare. A chocolate cupcake dipped in ganache with a vanilla buttercream topper covered in chocolate ganache. It was decadent, rich, and moist. There was a smoothness to the taste, and a drama to the presentation unlike any other offering.

The peppermint cupcake, actually a chocolate cupcake with peppermint buttercream frosting, also didn’t disappoint. The sweet, creamy taste conjures up images of sugar plum fairies and candy canes - a definite holiday treat.

Funfetti was creative and tasted homemade, and even the regular flavors - combinations of chocolate or vanilla cake with chocolate or vanilla buttercream - were well done.

A few of the flavors, however, missed the mark for me.

The red velvet cupcake, though similarly smooth, lacked a defining flavor, tending more toward chocolate than anything else.

Also slightly disappointing was the shop’s signature Sadie Mae. A banana-bread cake topped with lemon buttercream frosting, the lemon overpowered any hint of banana, leaving its taste similar to the shop’s lemon cupcake.

Yet it’s the trial and error that makes the shop as memorable as it is, a constant creativity that churns out more wins than losses.

Even on that Sunday morning, with a few orders to be made, baker Nicole Pantaleo, who’s been with the store since the beginning, squeezed orange juice, orange zest, and allspice into the soft buttercream frosting, setting it on top of the gingerbread specialty.

They offered me a taste, a bit of sugar and flour and butter suddenly made whole and wonderful on the tip of my tongue. It was a revelation that orange could taste so good.

Whatever the flavor, buyers can feel good about their purchase; 25 cents of every cupcake sold goes to the Hingham Education Foundation.

According to D’Souza, the eventual goal is to open stores in multiple locations on the South Shore, recreating the small-kitchen feel and the happy connection with customers.

If they keep up the direction they are already headed, they are on their way.

JESSICA BARTLETT

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Sadie Mae”s Cupcake Caf



288 Main Street, Hingham

Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Credit cards accepted

781-740-1876

sadiemaescupcakecafe.com


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