Even on a cold, grey fall day, CutiePie Cupcakes & Co. is a ray of sunshine. The sugary smell wafting through the small, bright shop is enough to lift even the gloomiest mood. Here, Melanie Abdilla gives Spadina and its denizens their sugar rush — whether they’re expecting it or not.
“It comes with a free mini cupcake — which one would you like?” Melanie asks a customer, one of the many who pop into the shop in search of a quick hit of coffee from the espresso bar. The customer contemplates before selecting a matcha coconut cupcake, the most popular flavour of the moment. “Why not?” he says, and Melanie’s smile widens.
CutiePie started in 2009 as a catering company and currently boasts an online store well-known for custom orders of cupcakes. CutiePie’s baking location moved several times over the years, most recently operating from the basement kitchen of a nightclub. The dream of a brick-and-mortar shop was one that Melanie had for a few years, but finding the right space took time.
It wasn’t until earlier in 2016 that Melanie got a sign. The top half of the old brick home where CutiePie is now located is plastered with graffiti — most prominently, MALNE. “I was like, are you kidding me? It’s my name!” says Melanie. Even without the correct spelling, it was serendipitous enough to get the ball rolling.
Why cupcakes? Melanie wanted to bake, and liked that cupcakes were a modern way of bringing people their favourite desserts from childhood. Rather than something stuffy or inaccessible, it was a little piece of happiness that could truly be shared.
Melanie had the sweet treats down pat (think cupcakes, lattes and soft ice cream) but maintaining a permanent location involved a learning curve she hadn’t expected. "When we first opened, I'd been running CutiePie but I hadn't actually run a store before," says Melanie. "The learning curve was just crazy. One day I was up for 24 hours — I didn't leave here. I don't even remember the first couple of weeks.”
Now, CutiePie has settled into a routine. The location, which Melanie happily calls “up-and-coming,” gives her a mix of regulars and tourists, and Melanie loves dishing out cupcakes to them all. "For a long time there was a disconnect — I didn't really see people experience them,” she says, referring to pre-café catering days. Watching people bite into a cupcake with glee is what keeps her going. "The best part is it's something that you can share with everyone," she insists, pointing to a blackboard emblazoned with CutiePie’s hashtag: #HappinessShared.
Smartly, Melanie has capitalized on the power of social media. As anyone with an Instagram account can attest, a smartly crafted shot of an adorable dessert has the potential to spread like wildfire. CutiePie’s Latte Pie did just that: a latte infused with cake-flavoured milk and a handful of cotton candy, the Latte Pie’s cloud-like composition of soft pink and blue quickly earned it a special nickname. “Toronto loved it so much, they started coming in ordering the unicorn latte, which is super cool. We just went with it,” says Melanie.
Beyond the love of a good photo-op, Melanie thinks the nostalgic factor of her treats, all inspired by pre-existing desserts like black forest cake, is what brings people in. “Everyone has their favourites and it's connected with emotion. Taking those classic desserts, it's kind of like taking a piece of everyone's happiness, and making it into a modern thing,” she says.
Is there any one cake that holds a sweet spot in her heart? Not quite. “I would say whichever one I'm eating at the moment,” she says with a laugh.
[Header image courtesy of Ben Bonnici]