This morning, a reader pointed us toward an alleged cupcake controversy, right here in New York City: that Jennifer Appel, owner of Buttercup Bakeshop (and former owner of Magnolia Bakery) was supposedly suing a former employee, Mark Libertini, for opening a new cupcake-focused bakeshop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, called Little Cupcake Bakeshop. According to our e-mail informant, Appel "wants the 'Little Cupcake Bakeshop' to remove 90% of the items featured on they're [sic] menu or else not to open its doors."
After we found no news of this lawsuit anywhere, we decided to do some research of our own, and we contacted both Mark Libertini and Jennifer Appel to find out their individual takes on the story. Our interview with Libertini is below; we have not yet heard back from Appel, but Cupcakes Take the Cake will be following this story as it unfolds.
When asked about his history of working for Jennifer Appel at Buttercup Bakeshop, Libertini explained how he had been hired because of his previous pastry-chef experience and formal training. He claims that Appel had invested a lot of time and money into setting up a franchising operation to expand the Buttercup brand nationwide and that she had hired him as a manager to teach the "nuts and bolts of baking technique" to new franchisees. He also told us that when he left the company this past January, that Appel had only sold 2 franchises (for a total of $60,000) at that point; he wondered if she wasn't perhaps having financial difficulties with making the franchising operation grow at a profitable rate.
Libertini explained that as former workers of Magnolia and Buttercup had left to form Sugar Sweet Sunshine and Billy's Bakery, Appel asked him to sign a confidentiality agreement in his work for her. However, he also explained to us that Appel "knew of [his] entrepreneurial spirit" and that he one day wanted to go on to open his own bakery. He claims that the terms of that confidentiality agreement in no way restricted his right to open a bakery of his own in the future.
According to Libertini, Appel first sent him a cease-and-desist letter, then unsuccessfully filed for an injunction to prevent him from opening his business, and finally decided to sue Little Cupcake Bakeshop with regards to the names for and recipes of 90% of its menu. Given the fact that Appel's own recipes for both Magnolia and Buttercup Bake Shop are in the public domain through the cookbooks she's published, Libertini says that even if he were using her recipes, that he'd be within the letter of the law. Moreover, he told us that his recipes are not exactly the same, and that the only similar cupcake on the two menus is the "lemonade." Other cupcakes the two places have in common include traditional flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet; as Libertini put it to us: "Jennifer [Appel] thinks she invented the cupcake."
While Libertini says he was fired by Appel this past January due to personality conflict between himself and Appel's husband (who had recently started working at Buttercup), Libertini told us that he wasn't upset at the firing. He'd wanted to go out on his own with a bakery and the timing was right to line up investors. He says that he had "wished [Appel] the best" when they parted ways, but that apparently she was feeling financially threatened by the "dilution" of her brand that any other sucessful cupcake-centric bakeries might provide.
According to Libertini, he and Appel met in court yesterday, July 6th, and the judge called for an adjournment until August 5th, when they will meet again. In the meantime, Little Cupcake Bakeshop is scheduled to open on or near July 15th. Cupcakes Take The Cake will keep you posted as to any further developments to this story, and we'll do our our best to get Appel's side of the story as well.