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Beyond the Marble Slab
Mix-in ice cream is so yesterday, today’s consumers are turning to bakery treats for customization.
A Sweetspot Baker's Workshop Employee shows off a custom cookie.

Five years ago the quick-serve industry was taken by storm when ice cream lovers fell in love with customizing their cold treats with sweet mix-ins. But today the trend has matured, and customizable desserts are no longer reserved for chilly concoctions.

Kookie Krazy in Thousand Oaks, California, allows customers to choose a baseball-size scoop among seven pre-made doughs (including one made with Splenda and wheat flour). After choosing three add-ins from a selection of more than 40, they get to shape their cookies themselves before handing them over to the store’s “Krazy Krew” for baking.

“During our first week in business, in May of 2008, people had a hard time grasping our ‘you make ’em, we bake ’em’ concept, but, after that they loved it and we began to see entire families coming in for the experience,” says Kookie Krazy partner Jim Kelley.

“Now, even though we offer quite a number of freshly baked ‘Klassic’ and signature cookies, about 90 percent of our customers elect to create their own.”

While consumers may not be familiar with create-and-bake cookie concepts, the popularity of gourmet cupcake eateries has lead to the success of bakeries like SweetSpot Baker’s Workshop. The company’s partner Chris Brown, insists that his Irvine, California–based brand isn’t interested in jumping into the escalating “cupcake wars” among regular bakeries. Rather, he likens his frost- and decorate-it-yourself concept that opened last winter to the popular toy store Build-A-Bear.

At SweetSpot, customers take their pick of pre-baked cupcake flavors then apply the frosting of their choice themselves. The focal point of the shop is a Wall of Sweets from which customers make their selections of decorative toppings. Brown plans to expand the interactive experience to cookies by the end of 2009 and cakes in the first quarter of 2010. Two more stores are also scheduled to open next year.

But it’s not just small quick-serve companies that are in on the dessert-customizing game, MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream & Treatery, which has about 170 locations in 35 states, began encouraging customers to create their own cupcakes in 2006, according to Jenn Johnston, senior vice president of brand marketing for parent-company NexCen Franchise Management.

“We always offered a customization option for our ice cream cakes and thought customers would like to be able to taste their own creations in cupcake form before committing to a whole cake,” Johnston says.

“We also saw that cupcake-only bakeries were becoming very popular, so this provided us with the opportunity to stay on top of this dessert trend within the MaggieMoo’s concept.”

During our first week in business, in May of 2008, people had a hard time grasping our ‘you make ’em, we bake ’em’ concept, but, after that they loved it.”

With a day or two advance notice (depending on the store), customers can choose their own cake base, ice cream flavor, mix-ins, and toppings. Like all Maggie Moo’s cupcakes, the customized varieties are sold in packs of four and six. The suggested retail prices for the design-your-own cupcakes are the same as for the company’s pre-made varieties —$9.29 per four-pack, $13.29 for six.

“We don’t just serve doughnuts, we serve an experience” is the tagline and philosophy of Fractured Prune, an Ocean City, Maryland–based bakery chain with 16 locations. Founded in 1976, the build-your-own bakery proves the trend isn’t just for traditional baked goods like cupcakes and cookies. At Fractured Prune customers choose from 15 glazes, seven toppings, and three sugars for staffers to apply to fried-to-order yellow cake doughnuts.

According to owner Sandy Tylor, the customized trend shows no sign of slowing. As proof, she says she has received so many requests for Fractured Prune franchises that she will be offering additional opportunities along the East Coast.

photo courtesy: SweetSpot Baker’s Workshop