Call it a gimmick, but it seems to be working. You really can’t pass by the shiny new storefront in Bryn Mawr without a sideways glance. That’s because parked right in front of the chocolate-cream-pie-colored building is a delivery vehicle with a giant cupcake fastened to the roof.
It’s actually more of a complete head-turner.
But Donn Selkowitz, the owner of the dessert cafe, knows a thing or two about promotions; he has spent a career in public relations and advertising, and owned an ad agency for 25 years in Rochester, N.Y. Now, at age 62, he wants to concentrate on something his mother taught him: the art of baking, and doing it well.
He opened his first store, *ndulge, in State College, Pa., his college alma mater town. It lasted from May 2010 until December 2012, when he and his wife decided to relocate to the Philadelphia suburbs. Two of their three daughters live here, as well as a baby granddaughter and one of Selkowitz’s brothers.
“We were an artistic success” there, he says, “but we needed a larger pool of people.”
He found his current location and opened for business on March 14.
All of the baking — as well as the making of a daily selection of 20 different types of homemade gelato, some dairy-free — is done on the premises. The only beverage served is coffee. The icing on the gourmet cupcakes? The food is kosher dairy, certified by Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner of TKS, Traditional Kosher Supervision.
Selkowitz grew up in an Orthodox home in McKeesport, Pa., about 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, which at the time, he says, supported two Orthodox shuls, one Conservative synagogue and a Reform one. His mother cooked everything from scratch, he explained, and even kashered her own meat.
“My mother was beyond outstanding as a cook and spoiled her four sons,” he says. “She made homemade cheese pockets and homemade salt sticks. She made strudel for my Bar Mitzvah that you could read through. At Penn State, I could have sold my care packages, they were that good. She’s my inspiration.”
He wanted his products kosher because he says “it’s difficult for observant Jews to find something this delicious that they can eat” ready-made. Customers can sit at cafe tables or get items packaged up for home. Selkowitz did note that because the items are not pareve and because *ndulge is open seven days a week, it may not be kosher enough for some. But in the same breath he also noted a strict policy of no outside food allowed through the doors.
Selkowitz says he always dabbled in cooking, that it was a form of relaxation and he relished the immediate feedback he got from a good dish. You could see it on people’s faces — the love, he says.
That’s why he trademarked not only the name of his store, but its slogan: “Live well. Die happy.”
“A cupcake is a little reward, an indulgence,” he says.
But it’s not as easy as it seems. “A good vanilla cupcake is one of the hardest things to make. There are a lot of ways to go wrong. We take our craft seriously … not ourselves,” he quips, “but the craft.”
The store offers a menu of eight to 11 oversized cupcakes that change daily. The signature flavor — and best-seller — is the Peanut Butter Cup. The Root Beer Float is also fun, says Selkowitz, and the Salted Caramel gelato just scrumptious.
A limited number of blintzes, whoopie pies and cinnamon buns can also be found behind the glass cases, and custom baking is offered, including gluten-free. Selkowitz hopes to introduce sweet kugel, another reminder of his mother, Rose.
He’s also set to open another storefront next month in Manayunk; the items will be brought in from the Bryn Mawr site.
“We’ve been very pleased; the reception people have given us is outstanding. The retail business is not easy,” he acknowledges, but the work has its rewards. After all, he says, “bakeries are happy places.”
Info to Go:
*ndulge cupcake boutique
1039A West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Web site: ndulgecupcakes.com