Love at first bite

Phillip Brents

Mon September 23, 2013 10:44pm

Love Cupcake Cafe
Chula Vista, CA 91915
(619) 271-5683

Like many in my generation, I grew up with the delectable Hostess chocolate cupcake. The cake with its rich vanilla crème filling and chocolate frosting (topped by a signature line of eight white squiggles) was heavenly.

My mother put a package of two cakes in my lunch bag each day for school.

I didn’t think anyone could ever improve on the legendary Hostess cupcake. But leave it to Juan and Hortenssia Zatarain of Love Cupcake Cafe in Otay Ranch to do just that.

Their version of the iconic American brand sets a new standard for the tasty chocolate cake dessert. The word “love” replaces the squiggles on top. It’s a match made in heaven.

Love Cupcake Cafe opened May 26 and sold out its inventory in an hour and 10 minutes, much to the dismay of the Zatarains.

“We kept on baking,” Hortenssia said. “Everyone (family and friends) helped us. We were completely naïve.”

They’ve since learned to deal with the heavy demand for the store’s yummy product.

Baking starts at 5 a.m. and continues at intervals throughout the day. The Zatarains estimate that 95 percent of the cupcakes baked each day are sold. That works out to about 500 to 600 cupcakes.

Hortenssia said the goal is to sell 1,000 cupcakes each day.

That’s a giant leap from the couple’s humble business beginnings four years ago when Hortenssia started baking at home and sent Juan to work with her homemade treats. At that time, she could only bake 12 cupcakes at a time and offered just two flavors.

Word of mouth, so to speak, quickly changed that. Orders now come from as far away as Fallbrook.

Besides walk-up traffic, the cafe also caters weddings, birthdays, business parties and other special occasions.

“We do a lot of stuff for community events, so people know who we are,” Hortenssia explained.

Sweet tooth

The cafe serves about 20 different flavors each day, with about a dozen flavors available on a full-time basis.

Cupcakes are $3.25 each, a half-dozen for $18 and a dozen for $35. Don’t be put off by the price — each cupcake is large enough to serve as a standalone dessert.

The tres leche cupcake is the most popular flavor with customers. The Mexican-style treat features a yellow cake soaked in three types of milk — condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream. It’s extremely moist inside and is therefore served with the wrapper still on.

Other popular flavors include lemon (lemon-chino), pumpkin, red velvet and carrot (affectionately known as “24 karat” at the store). 

“We have everything you can think of in cupcakes,” Hortenssia said.

Among the more specialty-minded flavors, the s’mores cupcake features a graham cracker bottom and chocolate cake filled with marshmallows and chocolate chips and is topped with a delicious marshmallow buttercream frosting.

The banana split cupcake is even more exotic: the banana-flavored cake is topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting, a fudge drizzle, rainbow sprinkles and a cherry.

Besides cupcakes, the café also serves a diverse variety of flavored coffee drinks and teas. There is also free wi-fi.

The Zatarains, who have taken obvious pride in the popularity of their product, are big on holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter — and that will be reflected by both decorations in the shop and the seasonal flavors offered, they said.

“For Halloween, we’ll have spiders and tombstones on all the cupcakes,” Hortenssia said.

Business hours are Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.