Cupcake craze prompts bake-off between UAE cafes

The National Review / Razan Alzyani

Mamas Cupcakes

few weeks ago, she offered a small ginger cookie to a visitor at her Mama's Cupcakes cafe in Abu Dhabi, but it didn't have the right crunch. She was not pleased. "I know why," says Ms Taha. "The jar lid was not shut tightly."

So she dug out another cookie and offered it to the visitor. It was definitely crunchy. And Ms Taha was relieved.

It is the personal touch that distinguishes small cafes such as Ms Taha's from bigger chains, even as the cupcake craze picks up in the UAE. The sector has a relatively low barrier for entry, especially for people who like to bake sweet treats.

But running a restaurant or cafe is not easy. Keeping up with the likes and dislikes of customers, bringing to the shelves unusual offerings and adding value to the food without losing sight of the core business are among the ways that can help a business stand out from the crowd.

"Themed cupcake shops are particularly popular in the UAE as consumers seek out a new experience combined with the indulgence of a cupcake," says Sana Toukan, a research manager at Euromonitor International, in Dubai.

There has been a surge in the number of cafes and cupcake shops around the country over the past few years, driven by high demand.

The market size for cafes in the UAE is forecast to reach US$498.6 million (Dh1.83 billion) by 2016, Ms Toukan says.

Despite the growing competition, Ms Taha is unfazed.

A couple of months after she opened, the upmarket cupcake chain Bloomsbury's unveiled its facade on the next block.

Slotted as the chain's fifth store in the UAE, it is expected to open in a month.

"People will buy what they like," says Ms Taha.

On a much smaller scale, Ms Taha tries to match her competitor in quality, quantity and ambience at Mama's Cupcakes


On any given day, it has at least 12 types of cupcake, including her special salty one with pepper and walnut, others with pink, green and blue swirls of cream, and three kinds of biscuits.

"I try them at home; if I like it, I make them here," she says.

Growing up by the sea in Tyre, in southern Lebanon, she remembers the long nights during Ramadan when, as an adolescent, she was allowed to spend time with neighbours making special Eid sweets. Since then, she has experimented with numerous recipes.

Located in an office block off Muroor Road, her cafe is already attracting about 30 visitors a day. She employs one chef and will add one more employee in a few months. She is also scouting for a location for a second branch.

"The challenge is to keep up the good taste and good service and add things to change the menu," Ms Taha says..

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