Meet & Eat: Lev Ekster, CupcakeStop
"Honestly I haven't been annoyed with the trend at all. Cupcakes are a delicious and convenient treat that don't require any utensils."
It was only a matter of time before a street vendor would be devoted to cupcakes. Sure, there's already the Dessert Truck and Treats Truck, but Lev Ekster, a recent (as in this month) law school grad, is devoting his vehicle to cupcakes. No cookies; none of this hot chocolate. Cupcakes.
CupcakeStop will debut with a preview route tomorrow and officially launch the around-the-clock business next Wednesday, June 3. Since the venue will always be changing, he's another street vendor using Twitter to communicate daily details, though he plans to be in the Herald Square area from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and around Union Square or the West Village from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Name: Lev Ekster
Location: Always changing
Occupation: Law school grad/mobile cupcake entrepreneur
How do you go from law school to mobile cupcakerie? I spent countless hours in the law library studying for finals and since my school, New York Law School, was in Tribeca, nearly all the businesses would shut down after 5 p.m. I always trekked to grab a bite after leaving the library, and oftentimes it was for a cupcake-type snack.
After a while, I concluded that I wasn’t really pleased with the cupcakes being sold and grew frustrated with my commutes to get them; others had to feel the same way. When the legal market started bottoming out, I realized that it was the time to act.
Have you ever been annoyed by the cupcake trend? Do you think it'll ever die? Honestly I haven't been annoyed with the trend at all. Cupcakes are a delicious and convenient treat that don't require any utensils. They can be eaten on-the-go and are perfect with coffee which I, along with probably all other law school students consume(d) a lot of.
Also, there's so many flavor possibilities that it's hard to grow annoyed with cupcakes. I think by CupcakeStop coming out and really pushing for taste and quality, all cupcake fans will benefit. As long as the cupcakes taste good, the “trend” is here to stay in my opinion.
What non-mobile cupcakeries inspired you when you were hatching CupcakeStop? I've been to nearly every cupcakerie in Manhattan and a few in Brooklyn and I think after surveying all of them, I strategized by finding ways to improve on what was out there. I was lucky enough to find a chef, Manal Mady, with nearly nine years of cupcake-baking experience who can produce nearly any flavor I can think of. I've gotten so many requests for vegan cupcakes that it's caused me and Manal to start researching new recipes to accommodate these requests.
What are your early memories of street food? My earliest memory would probably be getting a hot dog from a street vendor after catching a New York Knicks game years ago. I think even back then, my mind raced with possibilities and it wasn't until early this year that I decided there was no reason why mobile food vending had to be so limited. I think there are endless possibilities, especially for New York City, for this business.
How has Twitter changed the street food scene in your eyes? I think Twitter is absolutely amazing and ideal for mobile food vending. Not only does it allow CupcakeStop to keep our followers informed about our trucks location, but it also allows us to announce specials, new flavors and also receive feedback from our customers in real-time. Our customers can tell us about their experience with our truck and also invite us to events they're attending where our truck is desired.
You an iPhoner? Blackberry man? I am a definitely a Blackberry man and it is always handy. I can definitely relate to Obama’s refusal to give it up.
Where did the truck come from? How has it been refurbished to meet your cupcake-hawking needs? The truck is actually nearly brand-new, a 2007 Ford UtilityMaster with around 1,000 miles. By some chance, I ran into the owner of John John’s Pizza truck and discussed my concept for CupcakeStop. Sure enough, he was sold on the spot and within weeks, the truck was converted to what it is today.
Has your law background helped you decipher the city's street vending codes/regulations? I don't think it takes a legal background to decipher the city's street vending codes/regulations, although perhaps I should say so to not feel that the last three years in law school were in vain. The city's regulations for the truck, its employees, and parking restrictions are actually relatively clear-cut, just strict. However, I think these regulations are imperative to maintaining a positive, sanitary and reputable image for the mobile food vending business. I never want to have customers think of CupcakeStop as just a truck. We're striving to make the experience and cupcake quality comparable to the finest non-mobile bakeries around.
Who's your favorite NYC street vendor? Did you vote for anyone for this year's Vendy Awards? I don't know if he's still around, but there was a shish kabob vendor who worked on the corner of 11th Street and 3rd Avenue right by Webster Hall that I recall frequenting a few times years ago. I've never voted for the Vendy Awards but I'm already starting the CupcakeStop campaign to hopefully get some votes next year.
Describe your perfect meal. Filet mignon from Areo Restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I've been going there for nearly ten years now.
What food won't you eat? Pork.
What would you like to try but haven't yet? The $1,000 omelet at Norma's. I don’t know if that’ll happen anytime soon though.
Favorite food person? Bobby Flay. However, my cupcake chef Manal Mady would give him a run for his money!
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions? I have an 11-year-old brother named Aaron who along with his friends can't get enough of our cupcakes! The family is all for the obsession as long as I bring cupcakes home at the end of the day.
Favorite food sites or blogs (besides Serious Eats)? I'm now a fan of Cupcakes Take The Cake blog. (Naturally)
Everyone has that one person they call when they need a restaurant recommendation. Who's yours? My girlfriend’s mother Sharon.
And what's the best recommendation they've ever given you? It’s really hard to pick just one. The last recommendation was to Telepan, where we ate after my law school graduation last week and that was great.