LINCOLN SQUARE — Thought the cupcake craze was losing steam?
Not if Flirty Cupcakes' "soft opening" last week in Lincoln Square is any indication.
Owner Tiffany Kurtz hoped to have a few quiet days to work out the kinks in her newest "dessert garage" before facing masses of customers, but the hordes descended the moment she unlocked the shop's door.
The neighborhood's response has been so enthusiastic, Kurtz is already thinking she might need to hire more bakers to meet demand.
"We expected it to be busy, but I haven't even advertised yet," said Kurtz. In fact, Flirty's website still says the Lincoln Square location will open in mid-March.
"It's only 3 o'clock? It feels like eight," she said late last week, finally taking a break from working the cash register when the afternoon shift arrived to relieve her. "I haven't even had time to go to my computer to order what we need."
Colleen Mansell, who's lived in Lincoln Square for 10 years, had been eyeballing the storefront at 4631 N. Lincoln Ave. for months while it underwent renovations — the space was formerly occupied by Edvan's convenience store — and was among those who flocked to the bakery in its first days.
"Who doesn't like cupcakes?" she said, as she watched her 4-year-old son Reed lick frosting from his fingers.
"There's nothing like this in the neighborhood," Mansell said. "Certainly not esthetically. It's so cute."
"This is a pregnant person's dream," said expectant mother Kelly Walker. "It's a great addition, it's a great gathering space."
Flirty even managed to lure a couple of dudes on spring break, who washed down their treats with mugs of hot chocolate. Granted Henry Landgraff and Ben Serwer are only 12 and 11 years old respectively — and attend Rogers Park Montessori — but they vowed to become regular customers.
"To die for," Landgraff pronounced his cupcake.
With the opening of Flirty's Lincoln Square outpost, Kurtz has now managed the rare feat of expanding from food truck to not one, but two brick-and-mortar stores.
The Flirty Cupcake van hit the streets four years ago, one of Chicago's first food trucks and the only cupcakery on wheels at the time.
Kurtz never set out to become the city's cupcake queen. With Flirty, she's following her bliss only so far as she's passionate about entrepreneurship.
"I've always been a marketer, I've always wanted my own business," she said. "A passion doesn't make for you the opportunity to survive and live if you don't have the business sense."
A run-in with an ice cream truck convinced her there was a market for classier mobile fair aimed at professionals like herself. A "social baker," she enlisted the help of a professional to help adapt her home recipes into larger quantities.
The Flirty van was an immediate hit and Kurtz just as quickly found herself embroiled in Chicago's food truck wars.
"There's always a resistance to new and different in Chicago by old-school politicians with ties to establishments that have been here forever. None of that stuff deterred me," she said.
"That first year, we had thousands of dollars in tickets," Kurtz recalled. "Now I look at it like, I proved to them there's a place for people to start a new business."
Flirty's needs eventually outgrew the shared kitchen where Kurtz was baking her cupcakes. "We were using up all the kitchen's time," she said.
So in 2012, she and husband Chris Sewall opened the Flirty Cupcakes Dessert Garage on Taylor Street as both a retail outlet and production kitchen for the van, which continues to tool around the city during the week and the suburbs on weekends.
Yet all along Kurtz had her eye on Lincoln Square, where the West Loop resident is aiming to move her family now that she and Sewall have a 14-month-old son.
"I knew I loved the vibe. I said, 'If I could ever find a place I could afford in Lincoln Square, man I would do it,'" she said. "When we got word on this place, I said, 'Oh, we have to have it.'"
The cupcakes are baked overnight at Taylor Street's large capacity kitchen and then delivered to Lincoln Square where they're frosted and decorated.
"I do a taste test every day to make sure everything's consistent," said Kurtz, who also steps in as a baker when her team needs an extra hand. "I know it tastes really good and I say that from my hips."
The rest of the new shop's menu items are baked on site: cookies, a homemade take on the pop-tart, brownies and a version of the Rice Krispie treat that swaps out the snap, crackle and pop for Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The fact that Flirty Cupcakes serves anything other than its namesake in no way suggests Kurtz is less than bullish on her signature offering.
"We just like to give options. Some people just want a cookie," said Kurtz, though she does admit, "adding all the other desserts has been refreshing."
Cupcakes are a main staple, she said, like pizza and hamburgers.
"It's definitely not dying down," she said of the craze, "or obviously I wouldn't be opening a second location."
That she's now a shopkeeper twice over is something Kurtz is still wrapping her head around.
"I had no idea this is where I would end up," she said. "I remember being interviewed by CBS and they asked if I had plans to open a bakery. I said, 'No, that defeats the whole purpose of the food truck.' And now I have two."
Flirty Cupcakes, 4631 N. Lincoln Ave., is open 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday.