Leading up to the Great Recession, a family of entrepreneurs opened a cupcake shop in Mercer County. Though Princeton’s once bustling center became a ghost town in 2008, the family’s business survived. Today, House of Cupcakes is an internationally recognized family affair; it’s also the latest entry in our series spotlighting The Best New Jersey Food Trucks.
The original House of Cupcakes location is on Witherspoon Street. It was founded by Ron and Ruthie Bzdewka, a couple who once owned two Party City locations. Their shop is the sweetest around for miles, offering an impressive assortment of cupcakes, freshly baked every day. The business also boasts four trucks, each donning decals of their signature flavors.
Before House of Cupcakes dipped its toes into the food truck business, the Bzdewkas were contestants on Cupcake Wars. Ron and Ruthie ended their time on the popular Food Network competition series with a triumphant victory; soon afterwards, they donated their winnings to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Beyond winning their first competition, House of Cupcakes continued to make multiple appearances on the show.
After The War
After Cupcake Wars, Ron and Ruthie, along with their young sons Rage and Riot, purchased their first food truck. Prior to this, the family had been operating out of tents and coolers when out of their air-conditioned store. Today, the colorful House of Cupcakes trucks can be found at numerous events throughout the year. But cupcakes aren’t the only sweet treats on offer.
The shop is famous for its rich, artisan namesake, but this cupcake shop has a plethora of capabilities. Alongside the angelic handheld cakes are an assortment of cookies, doughnuts, chocolate-covered pretzels, edible cookie dough and ice cream; they even make treats baked with your furry friends’ best interests (and taste buds) in mind.
For this installment of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks, Best of NJ visited the Princeton location. (House of Cupcakes also has stores in Clifton and East Brunswick.) We sat down with Ron and Rage Bzdewka to discuss the history of the business. They also shared their fond food trucking experiences, and just how much joy House of Cupcakes brings them every day.
The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: House of Cupcakes Interview
Best of NJ: Tell us the history behind House of Cupcakes.
Ron: We owned two Party Citys around 14 years ago and eventually sold them back to the company. Soon after that, my wife had gone to a kid’s event and was intrigued by all these different cupcakes. She had been baking all her life and said to me, “Hey, we should do something like that.” And I said, “Alright, let’s try it.” She came down to Princeton, right next door to here, just 500-square feet, and we opened up.
Rage: She came down; she found a spot, and the next day we were in the building.
Ron: Then 2008 hit (the following year), and it was like a ghost town down here.
BONJ: What did you do before Party City?
Ron: I was a teacher at the Middlesex County Vocational School. I was a special needs teacher, and my wife was going to hair dressing school at the same school I was teaching at. So that’s where we met. I taught for seven years before I left, and we started Party City.
BONJ: What was it like early on for House of Cupcakes?
Ron: It was very slow early on. We were right next door to where we are now, just 500-square feet. Then we expanded, and then we had a fire. One-thirty in the morning we get a knock on our door; it was the police telling us our store had just been on fire. Then I ran down here. From the front, it didn’t look bad at all; but there were a ton of firetrucks and ambulances down the street. Then they brought me in the back, and the kitchen was gone. Thank God nobody got hurt.
This current location happened to be empty at the time. We were reluctant to move and take on more space, but we thought it must be a sign or something. So we moved to where we are now. Twice the size and 10-times the seating.
Rage: We moved over here on October 21, 2014.
BONJ: How did you manage to get on Cupcake Wars?
Ron: In 2009 or so, we were contacted by Cupcake Wars. The first couple e-mails I received from them, I deleted. I didn’t know what that was [laughs]. And then they called and said to me, “No, no, you really need to check this out.” So I said, “Alright, we’ll do it!” So we made some crazy video in the middle of the night in our shop.
Rage: It was so funny. My mother had pneumonia – she was really sick – and we got here at 10 at night; we recorded the video with some really old camera. But it was so old that we couldn’t download the video to the computer.
Ron: So the next day, we went to Best Buy and got a cheesy little camera and recorded another video that night and sent our audition tape in, and we got on the show.
BONJ: What was your experience like on the show?
Ron: It was crazy. It was so much fun! It was the real deal. And we won, and the next thing we knew, we were back on the plane – because it was filmed in California – and we’re looking at each other like, “Wow, I can’t believe we just won. I wonder what that means” [laughs]. But then we couldn’t tell anyone for a couple of months before it aired. Even our kids, we couldn’t tell them.
The next day (after the episode aired), business exploded, and it never stopped. Sometimes people will even drive two hours to come here. I think that (show) is a major part of why we’re still here today.
Rage: Mom wanted to keep busy. She got more than she bargained for [laughs].
BONJ: What were your future experiences on the show like?
Ron: So we were on it about four times. They invited us back a few times. Every time was crazy. They present you with different stuff and they throw in crazy ingredients; it’s just fun, but, you know, you have to wing it. It was always a lot of fun for us. My wife and I went out there every time, and we had a good time. It was a blast.
BONJ: How did you guys get started with the truck?
Ron: For the past few years, we have been participating in something called Communiversity. They close down the street in April, and they hold a huge fair. We usually have a tent right outside our shop, and we sell on the street, and that’s kind of how we got into the truck business.
We saw how busy it was, and people also kept asking us to attend other events; but we couldn’t just bring a tent. So we picked up this cheap truck, and Rage and I built it out. Then we started doing the truck events, and it just blossomed from there. We do seafood festivals and barbecue festivals. We don’t usually attend strictly dessert-specific events.
Rage: We go to a lot of wineries. They’re very popular.
Ron: Yeah, we’re at Laurita Winery about every month.
BONJ: What’s prep time like for you guys?
Ron: Well, Laurita, for example, that’s one of our longer events. We start at 11:00 am there, and it ends at 10:00 pm, but we’re there at about 6:00 am. We usually prep the night before, which could be three or four o’clock in the morning. And then we may not get home from the event until about one in the morning.
Rage: Three cans of espresso, after two hours of sleep [laughs]. But they’re really fun. Laurita is one of my favorite events to attend.
BONJ: You’ve said that the food truck owners who frequently attend all of these events sort of become family. What’s that like?
Rage: They’re all great people, and so you’ll go around and say hi to everyone and ask how everything has been.
Ron: Yeah, we’re all very friendly with each other. So, say someone runs out of forks or napkins, you don’t ever really run out; because there are a lot of other trucks you can go get the stuff from. Everybody is willing to help each other out. If someone’s generator goes, everyone’s got cords running from theirs to get their power going. You meet a lot of really nice people.
BONJ: What types of cupcakes do you have with you on the trucks?
Ron: On the truck, we keep 12 flavors. We have about 60 in the store, but it’s too hard to manage that many on the truck. 12 seems to work well.
Rage: We’ll keep the most popular on the truck and mix in some seasonal flavors, also.
Ron: Yeah, so for example, at Bacon Fest, we’ll have a maple bacon flavored cupcake and a French toast bacon. We try to theme a couple cupcakes for the event. And we’ll try to keep the 10 most popular with us.
BONJ: What are your fan-favorites, which you often bring with you to events?
Ron: Our most popular, I’d say, is the peanut butter cup. That’s definitely number one. What do you think is number two, Rage?
Rage: Vanilla-filled. Kids love that one.
Ron: Yes, and red velvet has to be up there, too.
Rage: Red velvet, chocolate, chocolate chip cookie dough.
BONJ: What other goodies do you bring on the trucks?
Ron: We’ll keep edible cookie dough with us on the trucks. That’s another popular item. Also, we’ll bring gourmet cookies. And if we’re allowed, we’ll also do drinks, like iced coffee, or hot chocolate in the winter.
Rage: Apple cider, coffee, fresh-brewed tea.
* * * * *
Want to see more of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks? Then click here for the full series.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ