It's been over a month since Sprinkles, the popular Los Angeles cupcake bakery, opened their very first 24-hour cupcake ATM. But during the three days that I staked out the spot, there was always a line ranging from "kind of long" to "around the block." What makes this retro-style sweet dispensary so attractive? I hopped on line to find out.
1. The novelty factor. This cupcake ATM is the first of its kind. It dispenses cupcakes 24 hours a day from a pre-made stash of 600 cupcakes. The ATM was easy to use: a screen pops up with icons of the various cupcakes for sale. You scroll through, tap your choice, then insert your credit card. Given that most people probably try this for the first time so that they can utter the dinner-party friendly phrase, "I went to a cupcake ATM today"—I was impressed with the efficiency and design.
2. The retro factor. In the era of Mad Men, this throwback to the automats of the 1950s gains extra points for old-school charm.
3. The cute factor. Cupcakes already tend to induce calls of aww! and squee!, but when that cupcake comes shooting out of a bright pink chute with its own little song, it is pretty darn adorable.
4. The quality factor. No one wants to pay $4 for a cupcake that comes squished and wrapped in plastic. That's why Sprinkles made the pretty genius move of packing every cupcake in a pretty cardboard box. When the individual package comes out of the machine, it feels like being handed a present, or, at the very least, just like buying a cupcake at the store.
So how do they taste? Although I had to purchase my cupcakes one at a time (much to the chagrin of the rest of the line), I bought and tasted three different varieties: vanilla with vanilla frosting, red velvet, and dark chocolate. I even bought two of the vanilla with vanilla frosting to see if quality varied only across flavors or if there was more simply an individual freshness issue at play.
The biggest variable between the cupcakes was how moist they were. The red velvet cupcake was perfectly moist. I appreciated the deep cocoa flavor of the cake and the restrained (by today's standards) frosting to cupcake ratio. In other words, it tasted exactly like a Sprinkles cupcake that I could have purchased inside the store.
The dark chocolate was almost as good. The frosting had taken on a slightly harder edge, but it was by no means obvious that it had just come flying out of a machine. I was surprised to find that both the vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting were dry. I assumed that such a popular flavor would cycle through the machine faster and be more fresh, but the cake bottom was crumbly and tasted stale. They were the only cupcakes that weren't devoured on the spot.
Would I go back? I like Sprinkles cupcakes, and, from the store, I've never had a stale batch. That definitely gives them an edge over the machine. But given that I'm a bit of a gambler, and an impatient one at that, I'd say it will all depend on the size of the lines. The ATM and the store are adjacent to one another, and when I finally decided to wait on line for the ATM, it was actually shorter than the one for the store (it was Easter Sunday so people were probably picking up large orders). If it will save me 30 minutes, I'll take my chances and hit the ATM. Also, assuming its popularity doesn't lag and the technology improves, the next time I visit the ATM its cupcakes will be more consistent. And then there's always late night.