The daughter of a dentist, Kara Haspel Lind took a drastically different path in 2006 when she opened her first cupcake shop in the Marina. Now with multiple stores and a mobile cupcake van, Kara’s Cupcakes is a sweet San Francisco institution. That doesn’t mean that Kara is set in her ways, however. Recently, she expanded her offerings to include something a little bigger: 6- and 9-inch cakes. The cakes are available in all of the signature cupcake flavors, as well as two cake-only variants. We spoke with Kara about exploring new edible territory, plus her favorite places to eat before dessert. GROUPON: So what made you decide to venture into the cake space? And can you tell us a little more about the cakes themselves? KARA HASPEL LIND: Cupcakes are a mini celebration (even if you’re just celebrating that you finished lunch!), and we wanted to offer guests options for the larger celebratory moments in their life. We’re keeping it special by having two cake-only flavors: Paradise and Chocolate Eclipse. The Paradise cake is made with organic bananas and passionfruit-curd filling. It’s covered in cream-cheese frosting, then sprinkled with fresh toasted coconut. The Chocolate Eclipse cake is a chocolate cake filled with Italian meringue marshmallow, covered in rich chocolate ganache frosting. All of the new cakes are ready-made daily and by custom order, which requires 24 hours notice. G: Sounds delicious! You have a well-established brand when it comes to cupcakes in San Francisco. Besides the new cakes, what else differentiates Kara’s from other bakeries? KHL: Our sweet treats are baked daily (sometimes hourly!) in small batches, so guests are enjoying their cupcakes a few hours, if not a few minutes, out of the oven. Community is also an important focal point for our cupcakes. We like to use local ingredients that are sustainable and organic. G: What sorts of local ingredients? KHL: Take our seasonal strawberry cupcake, for example. We use Yerena Farms organic strawberries in that. Poli Yerena, a Bay Area small farmer, created his own business with his family and his strawberries are to die for. They make a delicious strawberry cream. Our salt comes right from the bay—from the red salt ponds you see when flying to and from SFO. [We also use] Giusto’s flour, Petaluma farm-fresh pullet eggs … These are all conscious decisions to make a difference in our community, which is extremely important to us. G: Speaking of the community, can you tell us some of your favorite places to go when you aren’t eating dessert? KHL: For coffee, the new Peet’s on Chestnut Street. For breakfast, Gott’s egg sandwich. And for lunch or dinner, Padrecito in Cole Valley … delish and fresh! This interview has been condensed and edited. Photos courtesy of Kara’s Cupcakes.Read More
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San Francisco has more than its share of gourmet chocolates and bonbons these days, but sometimes one gets a hankering for some true candy: licorice, lollipops, jellybeans, candy bars. The wonderful thing about San Francisco is that it has places to satisfy every kind of sweet tooth, from old fashioned retro shops selling the nostalgic candy of childhood to gorgeous little boutiques carrying handpicked sweeties from around the world. Below are some of the best ways to indulge your inner Willy Wonka in the city. Shaw’s Candy Store | 122 West Portal Ave Opened in 1931, Shaw’s is the oldest candy store in San Francisco. It’s not trendily retro; it’s an authentically old timey slice of Americana with its red and white color scheme and jars of jelly beans, gummy bears, and taffy. Be sure to try their famous homemade fudge, which comes in classic flavors like peanut butter chocolate, maple walnut, and rocky road. As a bonus, they also serve Mitchell’s ice cream, another local San Francisco favorite. Fiona’s Sweetshoppe | 214 Sutter St This tiny shop tucked away in the Union Square district is the closest thing San Francisco has to Honeyduke’s, the famous candy shop of the Harry Potter books. Fiona’s specializes in candies from the UK and Scotland and the interior of the store looks like a classic English sweet shop, from the silver trays full of hard candy to the walls lined with jars of toffees and licorice. For a true English candy experience, try the chewy bonbons (not the chocolate kind), rich molasses treacle toffee, and the licorice allsorts. The Candy Store | 1507 Vallejo St For those looking to learn more about the world of candy, this little gem in Russian Hill is the place to go. Owners Diane and Brian are true candy aficionados who travel the world tracking down old favorites and new discoveries. Both they and their staff enjoy sharing their extensive knowledge with customers – so tell them what you like and they will pick out a candy for you from the multitude of jars on the walls. The malted milk balls and Swedish gummies are a delight, as well as the selection of nostalgic American candy bars, like Abba-Zabas and Valomilks. Miette | 449 Octavia St Miette takes the prize for most whimsical candy store in the city. The interior is gorgeously decorated like a child’s imaginative dream of a vintage sweet shop, all fanciful lights, floral wallpaper, and candy-bright colors everywhere. The carefully curated selection of candies range from Italian chocolates to British candy bars to Dutch licorice. As a bonus, they also carry Miette’s own line of pastries, from cupcakes to princess cakes to macarons. There’s a sweet for everyone in this store. Z Ciccolato | 474 Columbus Ave This old fashioned sweets emporium captures the eclectic, colorful nature of the North Beach district. The windows and walls are covered in offbeat decorations, but most visitors’ eyes will go immediately to the barrels scattered around the room, filled with saltwater taffy. Besides taffy in virtually every color and flavor, Z Ciccolato is famous for its homemade fudge in flavors like chocolate cheesecake and cookies and cream. The store also makes fresh caramel corn and serves gelato – truly a sweets lover dream-come-true.Read More
When walking around San Francisco in the winter, the urge for a cozy place to sit and a warming drink are undeniable. Here are some of the more unique places to sit, relax, have that warm drink in an equally warm ambiance in SF. 1) Vesuvio Cafe: An icon in the North Beach area in SF, established in 1948. Located across the street from the famous City Lights Bookstore, Vesuvio Cafe remains a historical monument to jazz, poetry, art and the Beat Generation. Artists, chess players, cab drivers, business people, tourists, and more all frequent this unique cafe. Grab a cozy booth in the upstairs area - it's warm and shelters you from the elements while providing a view of the North Beach streets below. 2) Buena Vista Cafe: Open from the early morning to 2am every night, this cafe, located just to the left of the Powell-Hyde Cable Car's last stop in Fisherman's Wharf, has one of the most famous Irish Coffee concoction around. The ambiance inside is warm and friendly, and has the feel of a neighborhood pub - exactly the kind of place to be on a cold day. 3) Hollow: Hollow is so cozy that it almost resembles something out of a fairy tale, or a hobbit's nook from Lord of the Rings. This is not a "run-in / run-out" place for coffee. It's a "sit down, relax, and enjoy" type of place. The shop serves up cinnamon roll biscuits, freshly baked goods, tea by the pot, and of course - coffee. 4) Philz Coffee: Philz is a California institution, and the Mission location is the original. Try the Mint Mojito coffee, as well as the vegan cookies. The relaxed atmosphere and friendly baristas will make you feel at home immediately, and their ample seating guarantees that you will be able to rest your feet while being sheltered from the cold outside. 5) Le Marais Bakery: Located in the Marina, this tiny French bakery and coffee house offers delicious house made coffee, hot chocolate, and other warm drinks; along with freshly baked pastries, cakes, breads, etc. They also serve hot meals for those who want something more substantial. The atmosphere is bright and airy - with plenty of seating on cozy, corner benches that will make you want to sit there for hours. 6) The Monk's Kettle: Not exactly a coffee shop, but guaranteed to warm you up on a cold day, this gastropub is located in the Mission and open until 2am daily. Named after the world’s first craft brewers, Belgian Trappist monks, who brewed beer in kettles, The Monk’s Kettle is an upscale neighborhood tavern that sets the standard in pairing beer with food. It's a small space, but has a nice ambiance with a long bar and tables/booths off to one side, and a semi-open kitchen in the back. 7) Wattle Creek Winery Tasting Room: Located in Ghiradelli Square, this tasting room is the perfect place to stop when the weather is chilly outside. Their tasting room is warm and spacious and has beautiful views of the bay. Try their Reserve Sparkling Syrah, and be sure to ask about their custom tastings!Read More