Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Friday, January 19, 2007

BabycakesNYC

[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.

16 comments:

Erin S. said...

You aren't the first person to have a problem with Babycakes. Members of our NYC Celiac meetup group have been very disappointed with the service there. For a bakery that is catering to a very sensitive population, you would think they in turn would be a LOT more sensitive.

Sorry about your unpleasant experience.

ByTheBay said...

WTF?! That is crazy.

BTW I just published their recipe for brownies on RecipeZaar - It was on Martha Stewart this week.

Anonymous said...

aI understand anyone's frustration with poor customer service. That being said, Babycakes is a new bakery. It hasn't been around more than a year, and with the overwhelming (read:seriously OVERWHELMING) positive response to their products, they may not have gotten around to printing up an ingredient list. They are not protecting secrets. As "bythebay" said, the baker was just on Martha Stewart this week, teaching entire recipes to the viewing audience. You know to what you are allergic, and you cannot eat those things. I think knowing every ingredient sounds a bit excessive. Do you do this in every restaurant? Ask the waiter to explain every part of every dish? If so, remind me never to eat with you.

Danielle said...

Anonymous:
How can you defend the bakery by saying they had been meaning to make an ingrediant list but just hadn't gotten around to it, then say that it's excessive for the consumer to want to have that information? If the website itself says it's your job to know what's in the food you eat, how can you blame a person for trying to do exactly that? ESPECIALLY when not doing so can equal a trip to the hospital. Some diners are much higher maintenance than others, no doubt, but that's exactly the crowd that Babycakes is catering to!

I think the main issue is not that they didn't have an ingrediant list. There are a lot of places that don't. What's important to note about this is that allergicgirl tried to communicate with the bakery and with the owner and never received a response! What we (we being the allergic community) are judging here is a business's ability to LET US KNOW if we can safely eat their product... the product itself is irrelevant. And Babycakes failed that test in my mind.

Do you work for the company or what?

Anonymous said...

I saw the Martha Stewart segment and had quite the chuckle when the owner of BabyCakes didn't know what Canola oil is and yet sets herself up as catering to people with food allergies and sensitivities and should know what every ingredient consists of (and be willing to divulge it).

What if Canola uses peanut oil in their blend? (they don't) It's one thing if BabyCakes is just another bakery, but their whole marketing vehicle is that it caters to people with food allergies, vis a vis the owner's stated reason for starting the bakery as being her own food allergies.

If the owner is not going to take the trouble to list her ingredients (a year is time enough to write them down) then perhaps she should rethink her bakery's raison d'etre.

Mike Eberhart said...

What a story. I can surely understand wanting to know what is in the recipe - for safety and comfort's sake. And, a list of ingredients does not give away proportions and amounts and all the exactitude that makes a recipe unique. So, it seems a bit ridiculous to guard as such.

Anonymous said...

Babycakes Sucks! I really wanted to like it but what turned me off was her lack of knowledge on Martha! And their is no excuse for poor customer service, I don't care how long you've been open. If you are in the business of customer service the customer is suppose to always be right and in this situation you were just asking what the ingredients were not the exact measurement!

Anonymous said...

So true Mike!! But so many really successful bakeries publish cookbooks with all their "trade secrets" outed. And what's with not answering AllergicGirl's email? I'm hoping it's just a nonchalant business attitude and not an attempt to hide something!

ams said...

I can not comment on Babycakes customer service and product, as I haven't visited. But...I do agree that divulging ingredients, especially for this type of company is essential.

I don't think they are avoiding your email though. I have emailed them three times in the past year just requesting their products available for shipment so that we could include them (for free!) in our online dairy-free product lists. Not a response was received. I also signed up for their email list a year ago and never received any email notification when they started shipping (as the email sign-up indicated I would). I think baking is their forte.

Are the cupcakes good? I have been very curious.

dovely said...

I used to work for babycakes about 4 months ago. We didn't give out a list of ingredients because we didn't have them-the owner kept her recipes under lock and key. I visited the bakery after the Martha Stewart taping and apparently they didn't want her to use the cold pressed coconut oil they usually use because of the bad rap it got in the 80's. A highly allergic customer recommended canola oil at the last minute so I think that must be why she didn't know it's origin. As far as them returning emails etc-I heard it took the owner almost 2 days to call back the Martha Stewart people when they originally called to book her. The owner only has one other person baking with her-she's there 14 hours per day and barely has time to eat. I don't think they are bad people. Just really busy. Growing pains.

Anonymous said...

I've had mixed experiences with Babycakes. The first time I went they seemed to think it was OK to call an item wheat free when it had spelt in it. I spent about 10 minutes trying to explain to the people behind the counter that spelt was a variant of wheat, but they didn't get it.

The second time I tried to place an order over the phone for a pound of cookies, only to be told that they didn't sell items by the pound (even though it says you can on their website).

They also don't tell you that the icing has soy in it--you have to ask for soy-free icing. Fortunately, my soy allergy is very mild, but I should not have to have any allergic reaction at all at an allergen-free establishment.

Something tells me that Babycakes is more schtick than substance. I've resigned myself to making baked goods at home.

Allergic Girl said...

thanks everyone for weighing in on this!

FRED said...

Yes it is kinda ridiculously that Erin won't tell you what's in the stuff.

My understandingly from my wife is that she is very-very-very afraid that someone will steal or recreate her recipes which took her alot of time and money to develop.

Most baked goods for people with wheat, gluten, or sugar intolerances don't taste like hers. I understand she has had offers from several major league established health food businesses and educational entities for large sums of money for her business or recipes.

Not to be crase since I have some of these food intolerances,
But if you are that intolerant to foods maybe you should only eat your own homemade edilbes.

Anonymous said...

Saying that food allergic people should just stick to things they bake themselves...yeah--that's what I've done for the past 14 years for my son. But if a bakery is advertising itself as allergen-free, well by darn they better know what they hell is in their recipes. Otherwise they should just compete with the rest of the cupcake bakeries of the world and make superior products. Ridiculous!

Steve said...

I came across you blog in searching for Babycakes' frosting recipe (I'm one of the few who seems to enjoy it). I thought you'd be interested to know that they now list ingredients on their website.
http://babycakesnyc.com/about-our-ingredients.html

jo said...

thanks for asking the obvious question re ingredients.
my experience at babycakes--the only tasty items were--the chocolate chip cookies, sandwich cookies--the frosting also was good--all use coconut oil. the banana bread had a weird aftertaste--its canola oil. canola is toxic, cheap, a thyroid disruptor, etc. also, i bet potato flour, gums are used too, but unlisted. imho, gums aren't needed or palatable. potato flour contributes to yeast growth. better alternatives--tapioca, millet, etc. i thought the good items were good. not trying to be mean, but i cannot eat toxic canola--tastes bad on top of being bad for you. another canola infused product that would be so good if it had--olive or coconut oil instead--happy herberts spelt seame sticks with tumeric--its so tasty and perfect save for the canola.