[NB: I wrote the below post over two weeks ago but before posting I wanted to give Babycakes owner Erin McKenna a chance to respond. I sent an email to her over 10 days ago detailing my experience with her sales people and have received no reply.]
Sadly, annoyingly, frustratingly Babycakes was very reluctant to tell me the ingredients of their gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free cupcakes. I had to speak to three people before I got a straight answer. This seemed unnecessary to me, especially considering this is a bakery that specializes in special cupcakes for people and babies with allergies and intolerances!
So here’s the backstory. A couple of Saturday nights ago, we took a stroll downtown, through Nolita and were near enough the Babycakes bakery that it seemed reasonable to check it out for an after dinner treat. I’ve wanted to try these cupcakes for some time.
Before I bought a cupcake I asked about its exact ingredients. Not an unusual question nor request. They are made right there, in the shop, in a tiny kitchen. There were no pre-made labels on saran around a pre-made item. There were however little flags outlining what the baked good was free from [sugar, wheat, nuts, dairy etc]. I still needed to know what exactly I was about to eat.
The saleswoman said she didn’t have my cupcake’s exact ingredients. I thought that was a bit odd; why wouldn’t she not know or have access to a sheet of ingredients especially when there’s an open kitchen right there and the baker was standing in the kitchen?
She asked, “What can’t you have?”
“Nuts,” I said.
“Well, we are a nut-free bakery.”
Uh, ok, that’s nice, I thought, but I still need to know what I’m eating. And there was no more information forthcoming from either person working in the shop. So I took mine to go, figuring I’d call the next day and inquire.
The next morning I spoke to a somewhat befuddled sales clerk who said she couldn’t give me the recipe. I explained I didn’t want state secrets but as an allergic person I couldn’t eat something without knowing its contents. I was a little surprised that I needed to explain myself to a third person. I heard her asking her coworkers for assistance, as I wasn’t accepting the “I-can’t-tell-you” line. Then a more knowledgeable and friendlier woman came onto the phone and finally told me. When I asked why they don’t have the ingredients listed, she said because they “haven’t gotten around to it”. I got the sense, especially after so much hoop-jumping, that protecting their product seems more like it.
Here’s my concern. This is a special bakery producing vegan goodies for those of us with allergies or intolerances. One would think, or rather I would think, that they would be very forthcoming with information about their vegan kitchen and the vegan products they use and make. I was expecting that the Babycakes staff would be especially understanding about a patron wanting to know exactly what she’s eating and that the staff would be both knowledgeable and compassionate. Especially after reading this from their website:
"Babycakes NYC Disclaimer: BabyCakes [sic] menu is ever expanding to create safe options for all. Although we try, we are unable to accommodate every allergy. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s responsibility to check all ingredients to ensure safe indulgence."
As I found out a few Saturdays ago, checking their ingredients is not such an easy task. It seems in the brief encounter I had with three staff members, protecting the very information from the consumer they are meant to serve seemed paramount. Perhaps I talked to a few duds, not the typical Babycakes gals. However, it was my first encounter; I was hoping for…well I was hoping for something else.