The Local Licks Spotlight features interviews with local business owners in the food industry. For this edition, I interviewed Chris Paseka who co-owns Sugarush along with Jesse Bello-Paseka. Sugarush opened in December 2010 and is located in Red Bank. The shop features a variety of sugary confections, such as cupcakes, custom cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, cupcakes, candy, oh and did I mention cupcakes?
But seriously though, the selection of cupcakes is truly exceptional, featuring daily specials as well “naked” cupcakes for customer customization. What is a “naked” cupcake, you ask? Well, you can choose from a variety of cupcake flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, carrot cake, red velvet and confetti and then add your favorite icing and toppings at the cupcake bar. Oh, and you can stuff it too. No, you are not dreaming.
These cupcakes are baked fresh every day, but I don’t need to tell you that. You can taste it for yourself…in…every…last…sweet…bite! You can also taste the pride Chris and Jesse put into each individual cupcake. Together, they have truly created “a sweet experience” for all of their customers.
But don’t just take it from me. Sugarush has received numerous accolades throughout New Jersey. Chris and Jesse have also appeared on the Food Network show Rewrapped. Spoiler alert! One of them wins!
In addition to the main shop, there is also an event space that can be rented for birthday parties and other celebrations. My daughter, Londyn, was ecstatic to have her birthday party at Sugarush this year. In fact, it was all I heard about in the months leading up to her birthday. Not only did this little princess and her royal friends enjoy decorating their own cupcakes, but Chris, Jesse and their staff made sure there was constant entertainment by providing crafts, games, music and more.
When I sat down with Chris I wanted to find out what’s behind this successful local business. Oh, and yes, the kids and I wanted to eat some cupcakes too!
Sherri: What is the inspiration behind Sugarush?
Chris: Our customers. They inspire us daily. We wanted to do something different – allow the customer to get what they want, fresh. We didn’t want to have cupcakes sitting in the case for days or have pre-made cakes sitting around for days (or weeks in the freezer). Everything is made to order and it took a little while for our customers to accept that, but now we know we hit onto something. We have the best customers in the world!
Sherri: How do you go about developing the recipes?
Chris: We tested things with family and friends for months before we opened.
Sherri: What is the most popular cupcake at the shop?
Chris: It really depends on the day. Since we are a cupcake bar and you can pretty much get any combination imaginable, times of year dictate. Specials we may produce can also dictate. I would say from our classics, our signature Sugarush cupcake is the most popular. For made-to-order, I would say a combination with chocolate and peanut butter.
Sherri: What awards/accolades has Sugarush received?
Chris: We have been blessed to win and be ranked as the the Best Cupcakes in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly magazine for four years. They have also acknowledged us as the Best Bakery in Central Jersey. We have gotten the same accolades from the Asbury Park Press and Monmouth Health & Life magazine (including Best Candy). We have also received the Best Cupcakes honor from Hulafrog and recently got nominated for a Golden Popsicle from New Jersey Family. We were also recently nominated as one of the four best cupcakes in the tri-state.
Sherri: What was it like to be featured on the Food Network and what was it like competing not only with someone you didn’t know, but also with Jesse?
Chris: It was very stressful. We have been asked to audition for other more well known baking competitions on the network, but we always wanted to focus on our business and our customers. Some of those shows have gotten so oversaturated. So when they came to us for Rewrapped, we loved the idea of the concept and thought it would be fun to challenge each other.
Sherri: What was your winning recipe on the show and your inspiration for it?
Chris: Well, I recreated the Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookie and won that round and then for the second round I created a spicy turkey meatball sammie. I guess the inspiration was my mom. We always used to roll meatballs (one of my favorite foods growing up). I don’t eat red meat anymore, so I thought “let’s do turkey” and then, I thought “how can I make it more interesting?” because turkey can tend to be dry. So I amped it up with some spice, made a sweet and spicy chipotle mayo and took home the win!
Sherri: At what point did you decide to expand with the addition of the event space?
Chris: We were looking at expansion opportunities just before Superstorm Sandy. Unfortunately our area was hit hard and some of those places no longer existed after the storm, so we had to take a step back and put that money back into the current business to survive. Then close to a year later, the opportunity presented itself to bust through the wall and expand. We were asked daily about doing parties, so we thought it was the natural growth pattern for our business.
Sugarush is located at 37 East Front Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701. You can also visit them online at ExperienceSugarush.com