When most people hear that they’re crumby at work, it’s a sign that they could be doing a better job. Not so for an employee of Crumbs Bake Shop where being “Crumby” is actually a good thing, a sign that he loves what he’s doing.
Less than a decade since opening their first bakeshop on the Upper West Side, across the street from the JCC, Crumbs’ owners — Mia and Jason Bauer — find themselves atop a rapidly growing cupcake empire.
Placing 422 in Inc. Magazine’s 2010 ranking of America’s 500 fastest-growing companies, Crumbs now has 17 New York stores and 31 nationwide, with more in the works. Last month the 400-employee company moved into new corporate headquarters: just steps from Bryant Park and occupying an entire office-building floor, the space is painted in pale yellow and brick red, Crumbs’ signature hues.
Begun in 2003 by Mia and Jason Bauer, Jewish Upper West Siders then in the midst of planning their wedding, Crumbs has become one of the world’s largest cupcake producers.
When they started Crumbs, Mia had been working at City Hall, and Jason for Famous Fixins, a licensing company that produced things like Britney Spears bubble-gum.
“We both just didn’t really want to do what we were respectively doing — even though we liked it, we just wanted to try something new …we were just exploring what we could do together and what skills we each had and baking came up immediately,” Mia, now 42, told The Jewish Week.
Crumbs currently carries over 150 baked goods per day, and 75 varieties of cupcakes daily, the majority of which are Mia’s own recipes. The cupcakes come in three sizes: a miniature “Taste”, the “Classic” which is about as big as a typical supermarket cupcake, and the 4.25-inch “Signature,” the company’s most popular option. The cupcakes are very sweet and usually topped with a heavy dollop of cream-cheese based frosting. Mia takes flavor suggestions from her two small children and their friends, from customers and from her team, but she still comes up with most flavors on her own and experiments at home on the Upper East Side.
Though the petite, blond Mia never went to culinary school, she has been baking since she was a little girl in Israel; her American parents made aliyah to Moshav Regba near Nahariya when she was a year old. “The baking was definitely influenced in those years because I was with my mom a lot and she did a lot of baking — a lot of baking — and I was around all the time and I wanted to participate.”
Her family came back to the States when Mia was 6, and she spent the rest of her childhood in Demarest, N.J. “I grew up in a town where there weren’t many Jews so going to Hebrew school [at a Reform temple] was really wonderful for me because it was the first time I met other Jewish kids.”
Mia studied political science and women’s studies at Brandeis before attending New York Law School. Jason, 41, who grew up on Staten Island, has a B.S. in marketing and finance from Boston University. Mia now studies at the Kabbalah Center and brings their 3-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son to celebrate Shabbat and holidays there. Their daughter, Annabelle, goes to school at the 92nd Street Y (across from which there is a Crumbs).
Mia admits to having a sweet tooth, but also notes that raising healthy children is important to her.
Not surprisingly, she prefers moderation to living without sweets, however.
“I don’t believe in depriving yourself; I think it only backfires,” she said.
Crumbs acquired its kosher certification early on from Orthodox Kashruth Supervision Services (OKS) in New York and U.S. Kosher Supervision in California, and the process was in Mia’s words “very political… I can’t believe I got out of politics only to find out that everything in the world is political — even the rabbi that certified us.”
“You know there’s some rabbis on the Upper West Side that influence different neighborhoods, and we needed to make sure we were getting certified so that the largest audience could appreciate Crumbs, and you know it’s really political,” she added.
She’s glad, however, to have made the effort.
“When I know someone’s kosher, it’s exciting for me to tell them. It’s not just that we offer kosher food, it’s what it means for me … this is important to us. We feel that we want to be kosher and adhere to those ideals and principles.”
A few other gourmet Manhattan bakeries like Magnolia, Buttercup, and William Greenberg are also kosher, but being kosher isn’t just a New York thing for Crumbs.
“Now when we go into different markets, it’s kind of the first thing we discuss with a plant that we’re looking at — are you kosher? Are you willing to go through the process of getting your kosher certification?”
Nationally the Bauers continue to inflect their bakeshop with a distinctly Jewish flavor like the flourless Passover menu they offer (it’s not certified kosher for Passover), which includes cakes, cupcakes, loaves, macaroons, and candy matzah, as well as other Jewish holiday desserts like jelly doughnuts on Chanukah, apple cakes and cupcakes for Rosh HaShanah and hamentaschen for Purim. Though many Crumbs locations already have them, installing mezuzot at the doorposts of all of their shops is a current project.
The bakery participates in local philanthropy by donating sweets to community schools, churches, synagogues and senior citizens centers. However, the Bauers feel especially strongly about Jewish philanthropy: “Wherever and whenever the Jewish community reaches out to Crumbs, we want to be involved — it’s incredibly important to me,” Mia said. In March, Crumbs will provide desserts for UJA-Federation of New York’s Family Fun Day. Jewish values “are so important to us and its so part of the fabric of who we are in every way that that becomes part of the culture of the company,” said Mia.