NYC Cupcake Wars: Buttercup vs. Little Cupcake

little cupcake bakeshopbuttercup bakeshop

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.


Blair said…
Not sure why I am posting this link to a cool flash animation here other than I think it is worthy of cupcake notice... they call it a muffin, but I am squinting my eyes real tight and seeing a cupcake.
Anonymous said…
We could use more cupcake bakeries in this town!
Every cupcake bakery is out of the way!
Anonymous said…
I contacted the Buttercup Bake Shop in March 2004 inquiring about owning a franchise ( not in NY. ) The person I was delaing with refused to let me contact any franchise owners (there weren't any, though he claimed there were several) and wouldn't give me any financials on the company, so I could make an informed decison. Two years later I come accross this blog and discover Ms. Appel up in arms because she's got some competition. I am not surprised she only sold two franchises. You know what they say, If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!
onocoffee said…
Fifteen million people in New York and Appel is worried about a few shops opening in neighborhoods nowhere near Cupcake on 72nd?

I spent last weekend visiting Magnolia, Buttercup and Crumb and while Magnolia/Buttercup cupcakes are pretty good, I don't know if I would go out of my way for them again. They're a bit on the dry side for me - even if the icing is pretty good. I like my cakes moist and M/B are a bit on the dry side.
Anonymous said…
I congratulate Mr. Libertini on opening this shop especially in Brooklyn! Which is awesome, the cupcakes are delicious and Ms. Appel although I understand how she might feel that he betrayed her, has got nothin' on him.
Anonymous said…
I applaud the opening of more cupcake shops. Personally, I think that the buttercup cupcakes are dry and completely overrated. Perhaps if they improved their product they wouldn't have to sue others that would make a better cupcake.
Anonymous said…
I was just in NYC and decided to visit Magnolia since I am thinking of starting my own cupcake bakery and let me tell you-Yuck. The cupcakes were dry and tasteless. I can not believe I stood in line for 35 min for that. I am so excited about opening my own cupcake bakery. If Ms. Appel's product tastes like that crap at Magnolia she should be nervous because better tasting products are on the rise!
Anonymous said…
I find it much easier to bypass all the nonsense by making my own cupcakes, avoiding both the long lines outside the shop and the arguments over whose cupcakes are better and who came up with the recipe first. At the end of the day, it's cheaper to buy a recipe book, it's a one off payment and you can make as many cupcakes as you want, and the likelihood of Ms Appel locating me and telling me to 'cease and desist' is slim, if that! Cupcake anyone?
Anonymous said…
Just back from the Pearl District in Portland Oregon. Had such a fun time. While walking along one of the trendy little streets, searching for a place to have dinner....we found Cupcake Jones. What a great place! We spoke to the owners who happen to be a husband a wife duo. They looked like they were having such a fun time running their precious little "cup cakery".

I must say that their cupcakes are the best that I have ever had. They use only natural ingredients. No artificial anything! Being that I only eat mostly was a perfect treat for me.

I am a Physician and have thought for many years that I would love to have a cupcake bakery. Thanks Cupcake Jones! You have inspired me to possibly start a cupcake bakery of my own.

Make sure to visit them if you happen to be in Portland!
Anonymous said…
Little Cupcakes cupcakes are terrible anyway. Super dry cake and the frosting just tastes sweet(no flavor to it) Same with any of the cakes I have tried there. The coffee is great though.