Bakeshop owner Justin Stegall.
Are bakers getting younger and cuter, or is it just my imagination?
Perhaps in my self-induced sugar haze, the old stereotype of benevolent, rotund, apply-cheeked bakers is disappearing in favor of lean, mean baking machines. To which I say, “Hallelujah, and thank you, Jesus!”
First there was White House chef Sam Kass, and now, Justin Stegall. We popped into his brand new Bakeshop in Arlington over the weekend — a cheery, light-filled, spiffy little bakery that greets you with the most heavenly aroma the instant you walk in.
We got there just after they opened at 12 noon, when they were busy transferring freshly baked and frosted cupcakes from trays to display counter. The ovens and work stations are partially visible, so you can get an interesting glimpse of day-to-day operations, with the guarantee that the products you purchase are baked right on the premises, say, a few minutes ago. Can’t get fresher than that!
Mr. Friendly in the black t-shirt.
Perfect Whites with buttercream frosting.
According to the very congenial counter person (hereafter referred to as Mr. Friendly), Justin, a Virginia native, learned to bake from his mother. His insatiable sweet tooth and lifelong love of bakeries prompted him to move to NYC to hone his skills. He worked in Brooklyn’s Baked as a cake decorator before returning to Virginia in 2006 to open his own bakery. He rented kitchen space and sold his cupcakes and cookies at a couple of coffee shops and fulfilled custom orders.
Demand for his cakes soon increased through word of mouth, and after several years of searching, Justin finally found the perfect spot to open Bakeshop — a sunny apartment lined street, where people strolling by walking their dogs can’t help but stop in for one of his scrumptious treats. His offerings include classic favorites (just like Mom used to bake) — cupcakes, cookies, pies, puddings, etc. — all made from scratch in small batches.
Justin’s mom in the yellow shirt.
Mr. Friendly packs our order.
I briefly spoke to Justin’s mom, who told me that some of the recipes are hers, while others are Justin’s creations. They bake approximately 300 cupcakes per day, reporting to work at around 8 a.m. They plan to open earlier for breakfast soon (they’ve only been at this location for 6 months).
Cupcake flavors include Red Velvet, Cookies ‘n Creme, Coconut Snowball, Perfect White, Devil’s Food, Lemon, and Rainbow. Mr. Friendly’s personal favorite is Strawberry (he once ate 10 in one sitting), but they weren’t available that day — so we opted for Red Velvet (a bestseller), Perfect White (the first cupcake Justin ever made), and Cookies ‘n Creme (to fulfill my chocolate search requirement). All were $2.75 each.
The first thing we noticed upon tasting these beauties is that the frosting is light and airy, and there is less of it compared to other cuppies we’ve tried. This doesn’t bother me in the least, as I often scrape off some of the icing from over-frosted cupcakes anyway. The White brought back pleasant birthday party memories, while the Cookies ‘n Creme had a very moist cake with good texture — not too light, not too dense. The Red Velvet was my favorite; the lighter cream cheese frosting was pleasant and not overly rich.
Bakeshop made me realize how much I appreciate the warm personal service you can only get in small businesses such as these. Mr. Friendly patiently answered all my questions, proudly highlighting Justin’s journey from online orders baked in a rented kitchen space, to finally owning this perfect little spot of bakeshop heaven. Does it matter if you know who baked what you buy, how, and with what kind of ingredients? I say, unequivocally, yes!
Seating area on the right as you walk in.
In this age of mass produced supermarket junk full of preservatives and artificial sweeteners, a small bakery that uses hand chosen ingredients is something to treasure. Eating is an emotional experience, all the more enhanced by how and where one procures the food. A sweet family backstory, an enterprising young baker, a small business up against fierce competition — all reasons to have hope that the American dream is still very much alive.
I see that a return trip is in order, so I can try the strawberry cupcake, as well as the drool-worthy oatmeal cream pies and pecan chocolate chip cookies. BTW, Justin calls himself a “Confectionary Architect, a.k.a. Sugar Master or Mr. Cupcake.” Could you, in your sugar-lovin’ right mind, ever resist buying something from the likes of him? Too sweet!
Coconut: nom nom.
Next time: Best Buns ☺
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