Arcade welcomes The Painted Cupcake

Friday, July 24, 2009 at 12:00am

An assortment of The Painted Cupcakes's delectable desserts, with their signature Rockin' Turtle cupcake in the middle

Sometimes, the best form of advertising can be simply word of mouth.

Even when that mouth is engulfing a tasty cupcake.

On July 7, Tracey Davenport opened The Painted Cupcake (TCP) in downtown’s historic and gritty Arcade. Word spread quickly, as folks happily embraced the sugary treats as a very different edible compared to other food and beverage offerings within the Central Business District.

David Duer works at the Hill Urban Market and was spurred to visit TCP after recently noticing smartly dressed business people munching on hand-sized dessert concoctions in his grocery.

“Customers have been walking into our grocery with the cupcakes,” said Duer, who enjoyed a Painted Cupcake Peanut Butter Surprise on a recent Thursday morning. “They are really excited that there is a place like this downtown.”

As is Duer. When asked his assessment of the P-Butter Surprise, he said, “They have done a good job of balancing the chocolate and the peanut butter. It’s a moist, cookie-flavor-like cupcake.”

Tantalized by Duer’s description, this writer opted for TCP’s carrot cake with cream cheese icing. One word: superb.

Davenport’s first job involved scooping ice cream at Baskin- Robbins. She was 15.

“That's where I learned to decorate cakes, and the rest is history,” she said of the experience.

Actually, one doesn’t move from a minimum wage job to owning a business without some significant effort.

Davenport said she has been making cupcakes for about three years. Before launching her shop (in a space previously occupied by an H&R Block office), she conducted some basic research to familiarize herself with what makes a cupcake eatery successful.

“I traveled around the city and surrounding counties trying cupcakes,” she said. “Most of my research was on the Internet. I tried convincing my husband to fly with me to Texas to visit a shop, but he refused. Not really sure why. You get off the plane, eat a few cupcakes, get back on the plane and fly home. Not a big deal.”

The effort has paid off, as Davenport’s shop offers both an inviting space and joyous desserts (also available are soda, milk and ABBA JAVA, with the latter roasted in nearby Franklin and a portion of the proceeds assisting orphans in Africa).

As to the space, the color scheme is playfully highlighted by a black-and-white checked floor and walls with pink, green and brown stripes. Black metal tables with glass tops, large black chandeliers and a prominent black-and-white clock over the entrance continue the color theme.

The TCP vibe is surprisingly cosmopolitan, as the space’s walls feature Davenport’s paintings (under the T. York moniker). In addition, Davenport will play primarily big band jazz.

“We will not have Top 40 music piping through our speakers,” she said.

For those into the “food-making fashion culture,” Davenport will sell custom-made vintage-style aprons made by Stephen Tediski.

“He has put so much thought into each apron, whether it’s the pockets, skirt or matching of the fabrics,” Davenport said. “He's amazing.”

Davenport said she had a “vision” for the space, one that combines themes found in European specialty shops.

“With the help of friends and family, we were able to breathe life into the vision,” Davenport said. “I am so proud to hear comments from customers and passers-by.”

And like one recognizing the stellar flavor and texture of a Painted Cupcake delicacy, downtowners are taking notice. The door to the shop beckons, with signage reading “Artfully Delicious.”

“It’s the most beautifully designed little shop I have seen in a while,” said Michelle Boucher, who both lives and works downtown.

Sheila and George Street, relaxing with a few desserts during a recent lunch-time visit to TCP, said Davenport’s cupcakes rival any others in the city.

“I’ve had Gi’s Gi’s, and these are very good,” George Street said.

As good as TCP’s cupcakes are, however, the cupcake is like coffee or slices of pizza in that the proprietor must sell a lot of small cakes (Davenport’s sell for $2.65, which includes tax) to generate decent revenue.

Davenport is optimistic.

“We’ve done lots of marketing to downtown — both word of mouth and print,” she said. “Plus, we have made it easy to do business with us by offering curbside pick-up, catering, delivery to the downtown area, and utilizing our space for parties — birthdays, baby showers, bridal, etc. What little girl wouldn’t like to have a garden butterfly party or a decorate your own cupcake party?”

To date, The Painted Cupcake has offered about eight cupcakes each day, with The Rockin’ Turtle serving as the shop’s “signature cupcake” and others rotating as “specialty cupcakes.” Eventually, Davenport wants to offer up to about 20 cakes.

With her friendly crew and skillfully crafted cupcakes, Davenport seems destined for downtown success. Even her pleasant motto — “Put a smile on your face and eat a cupcake” — suggests patrons will like the businesswoman and want to support her little eatery.

In fact, Davenport said she sold about 300 cupcakes on Day 1 of operation.

“We were thrilled,” she said.

Though The Painted Cupcake seemingly attracts more women than men, Hill Urban Market’s Duer offered a reason — one that combines both flirtation and a key cupcake ingredient — that males will gravitate toward the inviting Arcade shop.

“As one shopper said at the grocery,” Duer noted, “‘It’s a good way to butter up my wife.’”

The Painted Cupcake
The Arcade, 235 Fourth Ave. N.
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.