Listen up, cupcakes: We’re heading into battle

Josh Bartell just got back from Los Angeles, where he spent a week filming episodes of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”

As is always the case with reality-show contestants, he’s under a gag order about what transpired. We’ll have to wait until August to find out how he did, because that’s when Season 6 starts airing.

In the meantime, he says, relax. Have a cupcake.

The cupcake business wasn’t always a war, you know. Heck, it wasn’t even always a business.

But bakers are focusing their attention on cupcakes now, turning a commonplace kids treat into a canvas for skill and creativity. The once-humble cupcake is now threatening to overtake the muffin in popularity. Can the doughnut be its next conquest? Can nothing stop it?

Hard to say.

As for Bartell, he can’t explain the craze, and he isn’t about to question it.

“I don’t have an explanation,” he said one day last week while sitting behind the counter of his shop, Bartell’s Cupcakery in Struthers. “Maybe it’s the convenience. You can take one and go.”

It also might be the intense flavors that allow a baker to become an artist. Bartell packs a lot into each of his 48 varieties (and counting) of gourmet cupcakes.

The names he gives them usually hint at what’s inside: The Fudgie Pig, for example, is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate bacon icing topped with chocolate-covered bacon.

And the Campfire Special is a vanilla cupcake with toasted marshmallow inside, topped with chocolate icing, graham crackers and mini s’mores.

Bartell, of Austintown, runs his cupcakery with his wife, Leanne, and other family members.

The shop is in the former Struthers Newsstand storefront in funky downtown Struthers, a stone’s throw away from The Cellar rock ’n’ roll club, and Los Gallos, Selah and Dona Vito’s restaurants.

When “Cupcake Wars” airs, Bartells will have a viewing party at one of these restaurants, where he will give away the same type of cupcake he made on the show.

Despite his success, Bartell hasn’t been in the cupcake business for very long.

A former salesman with four small children, he decided he needed to take control of his life and start setting his own schedule. So he started a cupcake business out of his home and ran it for five months before needing more space and bigger equipment.

He opened his shop in February.

The self-taught baker is now selling 30 to 40 dozen cupcakes a day, and even more on weekends.

“I didn’t want a traditional bakery,” he said. “I wanted to pick one thing and then perfect it. And that’s what we did.”

To celebrate his success, and to give back to the community, Bartell will split his entire daily profit Sunday between the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and the Struthers city schools.

After that, he will pick a day every other month on which he will donate his profits to an area school system.

To learn more, go to Bartell's Cupcakery or find it on Facebook.

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