Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anything You Can Do ...

Hey, been to that cupcake place that opened down the street? You know, the one that landed a reality TV show? Georgetown Cupcake—the originators of the niche cupcakery. Well, there’s a new cupcakery in town. Baked & Wired.  B&W, are you ready for this? You have competition by the name of Something Sweet. Oh, and Something Sweet? You think your cupcakes are the shit? Well, you’re wrong. Frosting’s—A Cupcakery’s are better.
What we’re experiencing here is called Copycatism*. It’s a lot like Hulkamania in the sense that it is running wild. Is this rampant copycatism a new trend? Sure, there are—and always will be—copycats. Burger King copied McDonald’s. And then there was Wendy’s, Checkers and others. But the start dates of these respective companies are so far apart from their rivals that it doesn’t count.
But recently, niche restaurants are opening at such rapid speed that they can’t even be considered rivals. They’re more like … blatant copies. Oh, you got a TV show from selling cupcakes? I want a TV show, too! Quick, lets open a cupcakery!
These guys are trying to capitalize on some other dude's success. That’s cheap, unoriginal and, frankly, pathetic. If you've got the money to start a business, do something unique. Variety is the spice of … something, something.
These poor folks aren’t creating a variation on the cupcake or offering a different portable, handheld dessert (such as apple strudel, donuts, or some sort of bizarre donut cupcake hybrid. And P.S.—you steal my idea, I will end you).
Why poor, you ask? Because soon, the craze will end and so too, their dreams of cupcake reality TV.  Sure—initially, the public will go crazy at the prospect of another choice. Friends will have fun collecting cupcake data and researching the ultimate cupcake. Two friends canvassing the country in sight of the best cupcake might be another reality show.
When the craze does end, the originator will be the one that stands tall, having built a reputation through quality and longevity. The copycat will just board up shop and wonder, perhaps, if things could have been different if he opened a taco stand instead.
Of course, if he opened a taco stand, there would be have been a thousand copycats all running around claiming the better taco.
Let’s take a quick look at originators (less corporate, more small time, and local) and their copycats to see how truly rampant (and shamefully embarrassing) this trend is:
Burgers Originators: Five Guys (East Coast), In-n-Out (West Coast)
Burger Copycats: BRGR, BGR, BLT Burger, Burger Palace, Z-Burger
Frozen Yogurt Originators:  Tasti-d-Lite, Pinkberry
Frozen Yogurt Copycats: Red Mango, kiwiberry, BerryLine, BerriGood, Tangysweet, IceBerry, YogiBerry, Mr. Yogato
Smoothie Originators: Jamba Juice
Smoothie Copycats: Smoothie King, Roebeks, Planet Smoothie, Tropical Smoothie
And don’t get me started on Food Trucks (or blogs, for that matter: Start with the word angry, cranky, grumpy, annoyed, or pissed off, add a vocation of choice (waiter, bartender, brain surgeon) and you'll find a hundreds of blogs out there—one just like the other). This copycatism is a lot like the barbed wire armband tattoo. When the first barbed wire band was tattooed, the guy was proud of his badass and original tattoo. Then everyone got one; novelty gone.
Restaurants are supposed to be unique and different. There aren’t supposed to be ten thousand of the same. Makes you nervous about the possibility of opening a unique restaurant these days for fear that someone will take your idea, change the name and sell what you sell for the exact same price.
Just because you can bake a cupcake, grill a burger, or blend fruit doesn’t mean you can do it better than the other guy. And no, you won’t end up on TV.

*Yeah, I know. Copycatism isn't a real word.


  1. NYC is starting to trend towards pie now. Just a matter of time before an outpost and its imitators make their way to DC!

  2. I have never understood the DC cupcake trend... they are just overpriced little cakes.

  3. it's not just DC. NYC is crazy over cupcakes too.

    I also forgot to include salad places on the list: Chop't, Sweetgreen, Mixt Greens.

  4. Georgetown Cupcakes was the original niche cupcakery - although I guess they had the first cupcake reality show.

    There were quite a few other cupcake places before they opened. It just happened to help that the woman the own G/C are [passably] attractive and opened in one of the richest neighborhoods in DC.

    As for Five Guys - they originated down the street from where I grew up [Northern VA] and they were awesome when they were small - but now that the family has franchised them in several states they just aren't as good. And I don't recognize the copycats you mentioned.

    I do get your point tho' - the last thing anyone needs is another overpriced cupcake shop.

  5. *G/C was NOT ...that should say. Oops.