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The cupcake van may be coming your way

Adding to the gourmet street food phenomenon, a chocolate-brown 'Sprinklesmobile' starts rolling next week to cater to L.A.-area cupcake lovers.

June 19, 2009|Jerry Hirsch

It's hard enough resisting a fresh cupcake sitting placidly in the bakery case. Now that cupcake is coming after you.

In what harks back to the heyday of the Helms Bakery neighborhood delivery truck decades ago, Sprinkles Cupcakes of Beverly Hills will use a "Sprinklesmobile" to sell red velvet, lemon coconut, banana dark chocolate and other cupcake varieties starting next week.

"Mobile food is one of the hottest things going all over the country. Brooklyn has its ribs truck, Manhattan has its dessert trucks, and now Los Angeles has the cupcake patrol," said Clark Wolf, a restaurant and food consultant in New York.

Certainly any construction worker who has eaten at a "roach coach" or anyone who remembers the music of the ice cream vendor knows that mobile food is not new. What's different is the quality and the increasingly broad choices.

Here in Los Angeles, Locali, a natural- and organic-food convenience store in Hollywood, is selling high-end snow cones around town on its Icycle, a custom-built adult tricycle. Coolhaus, a purveyor of specialty ice cream sandwiches, is plying Echo Park, Culver City, downtown L.A. and Venice with the epicurean equivalent of the old ice cream truck.

"The whole concept of gourmet street food has really caught on," said Freya Estreller, co-founder of Coolhaus, an architecture-themed food company. "Mobile food is now pretty ubiquitous in Los Angeles. The city, with its urban sprawl, is particularly well suited to it."

When guests gather June 27 for the premiere of "Visual Acoustics," a documentary about architectural photographer Julius Shulman, they will dine at a mobile restaurant row. Guests at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA event can choose from among Sprinkles cupcakes, Green Truck organic fare, Barbie's Q barbecue, Tacos Ariza and other offerings.

"We wanted people to experience something more than passing by a table and grabbing hors d'oeuvres," said Sarah Rich, editor of Dwell magazine, which is organizing the event.

The Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck, started only last November, uses Twitter and social networking to announce its stops and attract as many as 800 people each time it parks.

In a synergistic pairing, Coolhaus and Kogi plan a joint appearance at the Brig bar in Venice on Saturday afternoon.

"The idea is that you create demand and then you reach it. It works better than if you are stagnant in one location," Estreller said.

As its traveling store, Sprinkles will use a chocolate-brown Mercedes Sprinter van with red hubcaps that replicate the trademark Sprinkles dot pattern that tops the company's treats. There's no set route, but the company expects to develop relationships with large office buildings around the city so that the van can park outside during lunch breaks or after work, said Charles Nelson, who with wife Candace founded the company in 2005.

Cupcakes are a particularly timely food, Wolf said. They are an affordable indulgence that fits with the current recession.

Many of Sprinkles' destinations will be in the beach cities and the San Fernando Valley, far from the two Southern California Sprinkles stores in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach.

"People have asked us to open stores in their cities, but we don't want to dilute the Sprinkles brand, so this gives us a way to reach those customers," Candace Nelson said.

Cupcake fans will pay a premium for the service. Individually boxed, the treats will sell for $4 each, 75 cents more than what Sprinkles charges at its stores.

The van, which can hold 1,500 cupcakes, will also hit some malls and places like the Malibu Country Mart. It will do Hollywood events -- it took a test run to the set of the HBO television show "Entourage" -- and will be available for hire by private parties.

Sprinkles plans to announce most of the stops via the bakery's Twitter account.

"We already do a lot of promotions for our stores through Twitter and Facebook, so we are going to let people use those avenues to contact us and tell us where they want us to be, especially on the weekends when people are out and about," Charles Nelson said.

The van is a smart marketing move by the cupcake bakery, said Wesley Brown, a consultant with Iceology, a Los Angeles consumer research firm.

"Another brand touch point is tremendously important for marketing today. People will see the van and want to go over and have a look," Brown said. It should work especially well in helping Sprinkles expand its presence in L.A. without going to the expense of opening new stores and the risk of overextending the company, he said.

Besides its two Southern California bakeries, Sprinkles has stores in Palo Alto, Dallas and Phoenix.

"The vehicle will scream what the food is about and say Sprinkles, not unlike the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile," Brown said. "You can't think of that vehicle and not smile."

--

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

Elina Shatkin contributed to this report.

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