By Rick Allen
The adage “whenever a cupcake bakery closes, another opens on the other side of town” couldn’t be more apt. Facts Smallcakes: A Cupcakery is opening in Ocala, FL.
Where: 4701 SW College Road
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday
It happened right here, this very month.
Renowned for its crazy creative cupcakes, the Blakely House a block off Silver Springs Boulevard just east of downtown closed its doors with little warning earlier in April.
And about the same time, nearly six miles to the southwest, Smallcakes: A Cupcakery opened its doors in the plaza anchored by the Bonefish Grill on State Road 200.
“It surprised us,” said Smallcakes owner Rasha Elmallah, who said she decided to go into cupcaking as a way to get out of a daily drive to Gainesville.
“I was working at the University of Florida and on maternity leave,” she said. “I decided I didn’t want to commute anymore, to leave my baby.”
In reconnecting with a college friend, Nadia Saqr, through Facebook, she discovered Saqr owned a Smallcakes franchise in Houston.
It didn’t take Elmallah long to contact the chain and sign on as owner of Smallcakes’ southernmost outlet in Florida.
“In about two days, my life changed completely,” Elmallah said.
And here she was, an IT project manager specializing in software installation now with a soft, new baby and making sweet treats to soften the soul of the grouchiest grump.
“Cupcakes make people happy,” she said.
“And people don’t grumble about this,” she added — especially her, even though she’s probably putting in more hours now than before.
Smallcakes is the creation of baker Jeff Martin, who competed three times on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”
It’s named for Martin’s daughter, Elmallah said — well, her nickname, that is; after all, I don’t know many parents who could get away naming their daughter “Smallcakes.”
In the past several years, the chain has been growing; there are at least 60 locations around the U.S. and three overseas.
Just two days after opening, Smallcakes participated in the most recent Taste of Ocala — and captured the award for Best Dessert.
“I’d already left when they announced it,” Elmallah said. “I was in my car on 200 coming back to the shop.”
Every morning, Elmallah said, her quiet, pastel-decorated shop is cupcake central, where she and her staff crank out a dozen standing flavors and between two and four rotating specialty varieties.
On most days, they produce some 700 cupcakes — and can whip up more as needed.
The bulk of the business is carry-out. They have boxes to handle one, two, four, six and 12 cupcakes.
Eventually, gluten-free cupcakes will be available several days of the week, she added, although they can’t be certified gluten free because they’re made in the same kitchen, she conceded in a recent post on Facebook.
And don’t worry about getting yesterday’s cakes; at the end of the day, everything not sold is donated to one of several local organizations, she added.
Courtney Allen and Julie Todaro sat at the lone table in the shop the other day finishing cupcakes they’d purchased earlier.
“A friend brought some in and shared,” Allen said; Todaro said she read about the shop on Facebook. They decided, “let’s go get cupcakes.”
“It’s delicious,” Allen said.
“Mine’s gone,” Todaro added.
Next door, at Hoggtowne Music, Richard Simmons said one of his fellow workers gets “a cupcake every day.” But not him.
“I’m not a sweets person,” he declared. “But when they start serving coffee, I’ll go broke.”
Guess what, Richard; your neighbor this week started espresso and other designer coffee drinks.
While there’s already a steady flow of patrons in and out the door, Ocala’s Smallcakes’ official grand opening isn’t until May 17, when Martin will be down as well as her friend, Saqr — who just happens to now be the CEO of the company.
A specialty that day will be frosting shots, which are exactly as they sound: a shot glass filled with frosting.
In a pair of overstuffed chairs at the front of the shop, Samantha Armas and Marcella Hughes were enjoying a “girls’ night out.”
“There are a lot of frozen yogurt and ice cream places,” Hughes said. “This is different; it’s still sweet and fills that craving, but it’s not ice cream!”
Each of them held a box containing two more cupcakes; just how much of a “girls’ night out” was this going to be?
“We only ate one each,” Armas said.
Added her friend: “Yeah, we have husbands at home expecting these.”