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Late to the cupcake party? For mom, daughter, business is still sweet

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9-21-04 frost cupcake 8.jpg

Another cupcake shop? Really?

Indeed. This one, the tiny, three-week-old Cupcake Counter at 229 W. Madison, is a mother-daughter duo operation. Mother is the baker here; the daughter works the front of house.

As the mom, Holly Sjo, 56, tells it, the "stars aligned" for them in late 2008. Sjo and her husband had just moved back to Chicago (their hometown) from Florida to be closer to Sjo's ailing mother; their daughter, Samantha Wood, 32, did the same, giving up her gig working for the UN.

But aside from being there for Grandma, Sjo, who attended culinary school and has had some catering experience, said she and her daughter both wanted -- needed -- something more to do. When the 340-square-foot space became available, "I just popped up and said, 'I betcha we could do cupcakes,' " Sjo says.

They signed the lease in February and did their homework, checking out some of their competition around town. So how do they differ? "We are by scratch, small batches," Sjo says. "There are some people who say that's what they do, but they really don't. But if you came to my house, this is what you'd get. I bake every day."

It sounds so familiar, that tune, doesn't it?

Here's what's refreshing: They offer only four cupcake flavors daily -- carrot, butter, chocolate and red velvet -- with specials that come and go (the one pictured above is not one of theirs, but you get the idea). No basil-tomato, no bacon-lavender.

They also do cookies, brownies, macaroons and the utterly-unnecessary-but-who-cares ice cream cupcake sandwich. Intelligentsia coffee is on tap.

It's a work-in-progress, Sjo admits. Initially, they'd offered a fifth flavor, coconut, but "nobody wanted it" (people, what is wrong with you?). The butter cupcake recipe, which Sjo has to quadruple, is still "the bane of her existence," flawless one batch, flat the next.

And they hold no illusions. "In reality, in some places cupcakes are already over. Chicago was a little late to come to it. But that day will come," Sjo says.

For now, they're just hoping for more days like today. A trader (the shop is just a hop skip from the financial district) called about 3:30 p.m. to say he was buying up whatever cupcakes they had left. It was the third consecutive day he'd done so.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on September 3, 2009 10:42 PM.

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