A lot of people are sick of cupcakes, so maybe it was a good time for Cake Eater Bakery and Cafe to reinvent itself. The Seward eatery closed its doors the first two weeks of 2011 to transform from a spot focused on cupcakes, caffeine, and catering to a low-key cafe. But when Cake Eater reopened this past Saturday, observations hinted the transition might be bumpy.
After the departure of co-owner Sheela Nammakal, who took a job at the Bleeding Heart Bakery in Chicago, remaining owner Emily Moore Harris has scaled back the baked goods in favor of a basic cafe menu. Cake Eater will offer just two kinds of cupcakes a day, and breakfast and lunch will have new savory items including omelets, bagels from St. Paul Bagelry, sandwiches, and soups. Cake Eater will continue to serve Intelligentsia coffee, Moore Harris says.
The switch to standard cafe fare means Cake Eater will compete more directly with the nearby Birchwood Cafe. That's the same challenge the previous tenant, Clicquot Club, faced. However, Moore Harris says, she thinks the neighborhood can support two cafes.
Another loss for customers is Moore Harris's decision to stop taking special orders. "No catering, no weddings, no special orders," Moore Harris told a customer inquiring about ordering a vegan wedding cake Saturday.
"I just don't want to do catering," she told the Hot Dish.
Hot Dish sampled one of the new breakfast offerings Saturday, a "seasonal veggie" omelet filled with kale, shallots, chickpeas, and feta served with hash browns and two slices of toast for $8.95. The staff had a few missteps preparing and serving breakfast. After listing feta as one of the omelet's ingredients, the trainee taking my order asked if I would like cheese. When the dish arrived, the hash browns had been pre-peppered with a heavy hand. The menu misspells the dish as "omlete." All small things, but they add up to make the impression that at best, this place is off to a shaky start or, at worst, disregards detail. On the other hand, the omelet itself was good, the Greek-inspired filling an intriguing mix of ingredients to put in an omelet.
As a trickle of snack- and sandwich-seekers slowly filled the cafe's 14 seats on Saturday, the reactions overheard were mixed. A little boy exclaimed, "I love yours!" as he took a bite of his father's cupcake. Another customer, before launching into a discussion of yoga teaching styles, tasted her cupcake and declared her roommate's recipe superior. A man came in and laughingly scolded Harris about the two-week hiatus. "Don't ever do that again! Longest two weeks ever!" Later, a mohawked woman came in, eyed the display case, and asked disappointedly, "No cupcakes?" No cupcakes; they had sold out by mid-afternoon. The customer's reaction raises a crucial question for the cafe: Is the neighborhood really ready to cope with a Cake Eater that is no longer a cornucopia of cupcakes?