A ll hail the cupcake craze. The national phenom about all things petite and sweet took hold in New Haven ahead of the curve: we welcomed The Cupcake Truck in 2008 and now, occupying the block with Kennedy & Perkins, Katahdin and Clark’s Dairy, is Katalina’s, a bakery specializing in cupcakes, cookies, brownies and more.
Katalina Riegelmann opened the bright, cheery shop in October of 2011 after a complete demolition and build-out by University Properties, her landlord. Indeed, the 1,500-square-foot space is completely unrecognizable as the former Clark’s Dairy, without even a ghost of the well-worn counter and fountain that dominated the old New Haven favorite. (Clark’s still operates next door; it’s just half its original size.)
Now, there is a new centerpiece at 74 Whitney Avenue: a gleaming case of sugar plum fantasies in little paper bakery cups, all frosted and sprinkled and utterly seductive to anyone with even half a sweet tooth. Much of the space is dedicated to a spacious kitchen, invisible to customers unless they’re participating in the Bakery Birthday Parties hosted by Katalina. In the front of the shop are a few tables and chairs – modern, with clean lines – where delighted patrons can devour their miniature treats while enjoying excellent people-
74 Whitney Avenue, New Haven
203-891-7998 | email@example.com
Starting March 5: Mon-Fri 8:30am-7pm; Sat 9am-6pm
watching, thanks to the store-length plate glass window.
Katalina, known to most as Kathy, is no stranger to New Haven’s cafe culture. She was the original mastermind behind Koffee?, which once had a few locations and now continues to be a well-loved haunt on Audubon Street, just steps away from Katalina’s. In fact, it was at the suggestion of her then-business partner, Candace Blasi, that Kathy first took to beating eggs and measuring sugar. “Someone has to bake,” she recalls telling Candace. “I can’t bake!” Candace replied. “And so, a baker was born,” smiles Kathy.
Kathy had never intended to wield a mixer. She grew up in Bethany, “playing with cows,” and went to Wheelock College to become a teacher. Eventually she became a fitness instructor in the Boston area, and in 1990 came back to Connecticut after her mother passed away. She enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University to earn a master’s degree in fitness, but started Koffee? instead. She still has her “other” job, however, as a personal trainer at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym – which helps
explain her svelte figure in the face of all that fudgy temptation.
What sets Katalina’s apart from cookie-cutter bakeries – forgive me – is that these are thinking girl’s cupcakes. Flavors like Coconut Lime with Lime Frosting (my personal favorite), Blood Orange with Cream Cheese Frosting, Lemon-Basil with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting and The Yale Bulldog – devil’s food cake with cayenne, raspberry filling and Nutella frosting with chocolate chips — are offered alongside more expected creations such as the Red Velvet Cupcake which, according to Kathy, sells out every day. Not every variety hits a home run; a recent tasting of some high-risk offerings found a few that were simply odd. The Goat Cheese with Pear Frosting, for instance, didn’t taste of goat cheese or pear, with a too-sweet frosting redolent of penny candy. Oh, well: it’s a $2.65 investment to find your favorite, and worth the gamble to experience this level of creativity.
Vegans and gluten-intolerant folks will have a ball at Katalina’s. There are always appropriate choices on the daily baking schedule; we tried a gluten-free chocolate cupcake with vegan frosting, which was as decadent as anyone could hope for, and Kathy says her vegan Banana Split cupcake has a loyal following.
Of course, it’s not all cupcakes at Katalina’s. There are also cookies, brownies, oatmeal energy bars, cake pops, macaroons and more. And here’s some delicious news: as of March 5th, Katalina’s will be open for breakfast, serving scones, pop-tarts, coffee cake and other eye-opening fare, starting at 8:30 a.m. Sounds like a yummy way to start the day, as well as a great opportunity to pick up a dozen cupcakes and become the office/classroom/dinner party hero.
Written by Todd Lyon. Photographed by Hayward Gatling.