When I walked into East End Cupcakes on 426 Fore Street in Downtown Portland, I had never before realized that cupcakes could be so chic. The bakery is filled with accents of bright pink and green, with sketch art and a giant glowing “C” hung on the exposed brick walls. I headed to the kitchen to have a chat with its owner.
Alysia Zoidis’ dark brown hair was pulled into a messy bun, and it’s easy to see how she fits into her former fashionable career as well as the artfully funky interior of the bake shop.
The shop opened about two years ago as the result of her desire to move from New York City back to Maine, where she’d grown up. Compared to the Big Apple, she knew Maine would have much fewer job opportunities in her field in the fashion industry, so she decided to delve into a new one. Zoidis had always enjoyed baking, and she knew that she had to do something creative. Rather than take on the challenge of learning dozens of new recipes, she decided she’d become in expert in one of them.
Suddenly, it dawned on her. “I don’t know why it took me so long to come to cupcakes because they’re everywhere in New York. It just occurred to me—there are cupcake shops everywhere in New York, they are rapidly growing in Boston, and Portland didn’t have one,” she said.
Zoidis moved back to Maine and initially kept her job in New York, taking cupcake orders from a word-of-mouth clientele, and baking on weekends in her home. When it came time for the business to grow, Zoidis stumbled into several situations involving good networking, good timing, and damn good cupcakes.
The first event occurred soon after Zoidis moved back to Maine in a cookbook store in in Downtown Portland. The woman working there informed her that Joe Ricchio, food editor at Maine Magazine, was currently writing a piece on cupcakes. Having previously met him through a friend, Zoidis contacted him, sent him samples, and was featured in the piece. Business began to increase.
When it became time to open a shop, Zoidis had no food industry experience to lean on. She told me that she received a slew of helpful advice from Rob Evans, former owner of Hugo’s and current owner of Duckfat. “I went in to meet him, I remember, with this long list of all items that I found online that I thought I would need…he’s like ‘You don’t need that, you don’t need that,’ just crossing things off the list…He’s like ‘Don’t put your money into things you don’t really need right away. You need an oven, you need a mixer, and you need a refrigerator.’”
East End Cupcakes also gained immediate exposure when Zoidis was offered a spot as a contestant on the nationally aired culinary reality show, Cupcake Wars, where she made it to the final round. Although Zoidis didn’t enjoy the competitive aspect of the show, she has retrospective appreciation for the publicity it offered; after it aired, business doubled. “Opening [East End Cupcakes] is the most stressful thing I’ve ever done,” she said, “But Cupcake Wars was a close second, for sure.”
The anxiety has paid off; Zoidis is now doing what she loves in the state that has her heart. Zoidis now offers a variety of gourmet flavors in-house, including bacon cake with maple syrup buttercream and pear cake with honey buttercream. Additionally, orders can be made by mixing-and-matching cakes and frostings on her website.
“It’s just been a trial and error type situation, but it’s good,” said Zoidis about settling into business. “I think we’ve kind of figured out our flow now, and we have a process, and…” she trailed off as some customers walked in, wanting a taste of those reputable cupcakes.
East End Cupcakes now serves homemade breakfast sandwiches, Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 10(ish) am.