Regulators Chomp Down on Frederick Cupcakes

Health rules lead couple to abandon plans

Here in D.C. -- the District of Cupcakes -- it sometimes seems like everyone owns a cupcake shop, or may soon be required to. We’ve got Baked & Wired, CakeLove, Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet, and Sticky Fingers Bakery. We’ve got Georgetown Cupcake, as seen on TV. We’ve even got Curbside Cupcakes, “Washington D.C.’s 1st mobile cupcake company.”

When New York’s Crumbs hit town, promising to show D.C. “what a real cupcake is all about,” District locals who take pride in our cupcake supremacy threw a fit. When Magnolia Bakery announced plans to follow, a We Love D.C. writer told the city, “if you accept one more cupcake place into your streets, I will lose it. … I do not need one single more shop where I can buy said treat.” But still another, Sprinkles Cupcakes, is on the way.

NPR’s Bonny Wolf recently predicted “the death of the cupcake,” conceding that while she has made that prediction before, 2011 could be different, with “trend-spotters” declaring pie “the food of the year.” And on National Cupcake Day last month -- Dec. 15, which should probably be a D.C. holiday -- not a single District cupcake joint was offering freebies, leading DCist to “have no choice but to declare: The Cupcake Trend is Dead.”

But Charles and Angela Packan of Frederick want to keep the cupcake flame alive, and have been trying since last summer to open Sweet Angela’s Cupcakery. However, the Frederick News-Post reports that the couple says Frederick County health regulations “have made it too hard to do so.”

Though “lawmakers and county officials have been turning their attention to making regulations more business-friendly” as the after-effects of the recession wear on, the Packans say “after learning how much equipment would be required for a commercial kitchen, they decided to bake the cupcakes at another site, such as Clustered Spires bakery, and just sell the cupcakes in their store.”

The county health department told them that was fine -- but later found out that “establishing a shop, even if no baking would be done there, would require them to add a three-compartment sink, a mop sink and a grease trap to the plumbing.” Charles Packan said that would cost at least $10,000 on top of what they had already invested, making moving forward impossible.

Maryland legislator Michael Hough plans to introduce a bill that would give regulators more flexibility when dealing with small businesses. He told the News-Post, “Now’s the time when government should be working with small business owners to be more flexible with these regulations because there’s not a lot of people opening small businesses.”

Rachel Kramer Bussel of the website Cupcakes Take the Cake agrees. She told me, “Cupcake businesses are booming, even during these economic times, so I hope that the Packans can work with their local government to find a mutually agreeable arrangement.” A successful cupcake bakery “would be a boon to the town of Frederick and could bring more traffic to the area, so it’s in the best interest of the town to work with, rather than against, its citizens, in helping them open their bakery.”

George Keller of the Frederick County Health Department said the agency is working with the couple “to see if operational changes could eliminate the need for some of the requirements,” but Charles Packan said he has not heard from the county, and that he and his wife have already broken their lease. So it could be a sour ending for Sweet Angela’s Cupcakery.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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