By Susan Campbell
Baked Cupcakery, a fledgling Grand Island business, can boast it has Western New York's Best Cupcake.
Its Twix Cupcake won the title at the Kiss 98.5 second annual Cupcake Challenge last month at Classics V banquet center in Amherst. Imagine a shortbread crust, topped with a layer of chocolate cake, a layer of caramel, then a chocolate and caramel swirled buttercream, topped off with the famous candy. No wonder those who bought tickets to sample cupcakes and vote for their favorite chose the one created by Island residents Tara and Jon Bondi.
Jon said he and Tara were most proud that "we competed against about 17 other bakeries in Western New York, most of which have been in business for years."
Baked Cupcakery just opened in October 2014 at 1879 Whitehaven Road.
It all started with Tara working at Cupcrazed, located just south of Charlotte, South Carolina. That shop is owned by Tara's sister-in-law, former Island resident Heather McDonnell.
"I've always baked, even as a kid, but working there is really where I learned everything," Tara said.
Back on Grand Island, the stay-at-home mom started baking goodies for family and friends, and soon the dream of a business of her own went into development.
Jon, now 29, worked for Erie County government. Once the Whitehaven Road site was in hand, "he took two weeks off to help me get on my feet, and he never was able to go back," said Tara, 27.
In the few months that Baked Cupcakery has been open, business has steadily grown. It was so busy as word quickly spread among customers that Tara was literally sleeping on the floor in the kitchen, so they quickly added three employees. Customers from both on and off the Island have learned to call ahead to place an order early to be sure to get their favorite flavor or to avoid hearing that cupcakes have sold out for the day.
The Bondi sons, ages 5 and 7, often help out at the shop with small jobs such as cleaning tables or sweeping the floor. Born in Youngstown, Jon remembers helping out at his father's antique shop in Ransomville as a boy.
"They definitely like getting a 'paycheck' when they help," said Jon of his own children. "It's great to teach them that if you work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone, you get ahead."
While cupcakes are the main attraction at Baked Cupcakery - several regular flavors plus seven or eight gourmet flavors changing daily are available - Baked Cupcakery also sells cake pops, cookies and cakes or cupcakes for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. Not only do customers have their favorite cupcakes, but the creators as well. For Tara, it's the Cream Cheese Peanut Butter Cupcake ("I'm a peanut butter nut."). Jon is most tempted by the Sponge Candy Cupcake ("That's definitely out of this world.").
Customers offer rave reviews.
One customer recently wrote of the bakery, "You basically kept my wife's sanity through her recent third pregnancy."
Alycia Duda-Piotrowski of Grand Island is a regular customer, and not just because she's also pregnant and craving sweets, although she admits, "Right now, I've been going there a lot." Her kids are fans of the Sundae Cupcakes and she likes how Tara provides theme cupcakes on holidays, such as the Marshmallow Peeps Cupcakes at Easter.
"I like her creativity. She (Tara) has new flavors all the time and each cupcake is decorated beautifully and is a good size for the money," Duda-Piotrowski said, "I've been waiting for a long time for something like this to open here, other than a doughnut shop."
Looking to the future, even with a third little Bondi on the way, Tara and John already are dreaming about the possibility of a second location, possibly in downtown Buffalo, due to all the growth and development there. The former Grand Island High School sweethearts, married for seven years, say their local customers won't have to worry about losing their new cupcake source.
"Grand Island is our home. We'll always have our storefront on Grand Island," said Tara. "We've lived here our whole lives. We love it here."
Baked Cupcakery, 1879 Whitehaven Road, Grand Island, is currently open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Search them out on Google, Yelp or Facebook, or call 716-773-2050.