Super sweets

Mother-daughter baking duo, saving Chico from cupcake boredom

The Cupcake Crusaders: (from left) Laura Dohojda and daughter Tia Zimmerman.

The Cupcake Crusaders: (from left) Laura Dohojda and daughter Tia Zimmerman.

Photo By melanie mactavish

Cupcake Crusader
752 East Ave.
Hours: Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Take a woman with a master’s degree in library science, put her together with another woman who is a former longtime corporate-securities paralegal, and what do you get?

Why, Cupcake Crusader, right? Of course!

Cupcake Crusader, which occupies a cozy venue tucked behind Chico Express Cleaners on East Avenue, is the boutique cupcakery owned and run by Tia Zimmerman—the library scientist—and her mother, Laura Dohojda, who worked in Silicon Valley for many years.

Cupcake Crusader also sells its delicious, made-from-scratch wares from a big blue food truck bearing a cartoon likeness of a caped female superhero resembling Zimmerman. Locals are familiar with the artfully converted electrician’s truck from the Thursday Night Market. In fact, Chicoans like the Cupcake Crusader truck and what it sells so much that it came in third place this year in the CN&R’s Best of Chico Readers’ Poll in the Best Meals on Wheels category (behind two taco trucks), even though a cupcake is not technically a “meal.”

“I think taste was most important,” said Zimmerman, when asked about the original baking philosophy of the 2-year-old business. “We didn’t want to use any artificial flavorings or anything like that. Everything is made from scratch.” The strawberry cream-cheese frosting topping Cupcake Crusader’s Strawberry Lemon cupcake ($2.50) and the strawberry buttercream icing on the Strawberry Shortcake cupcake ($2), for instance, contain fresh strawberries.

“Taste and texture,” added Dohojda (pronounced “Dohoyda”), who unsurprisingly has a long history of baking together with her daughter. “Like Tia said, everything’s from scratch. We bake every day fresh, except Sunday and Monday, which is when we are closed.

Photo By photo by Christine G.K. LaPado-Breglia

“Once in a while we’ll get someone in here asking us what mix we use. Aaarrgh! We don’t want anyone to think we do anything from a mix!”

Cupcake Crusader—which, incidentally, has a (well-used) drive-thru window for hit-and-run sweet-tooth emergencies—changes its cupcake menu every month, and often features seasonal delights, such as November’s Pumpkin cupcake topped with whipped-cream frosting and cinnamon ($2.50). On the day I visited, which happened to be Election Day, Dohojda and Zimmerman were featuring a festive Funfetti cupcake—vanilla cake with vanilla icing—topped with red, white and blue sprinkles and a tiny American flag.

Other cupcakes beckoning me from within Cupcake Crusader’s display case included the marshmallow-frosting-topped S’mores cupcake ($2), the Mocha Caramel Sea Salt cupcake ($2) and the Red Velvet cupcake ($2.50) covered in cream-cheese frosting and dusted with cocoa powder.

As I chatted with the likeable duo, I snacked on bites of the glorious-looking, shiny Ganache cupcake ($2.50) they recommended. While the Ganache resembles those familiar chocolate Hostess CupCakes with the chocolate frosting and white-icing squiggle across the top (except that the squiggle across the top is chocolate in the case of the Ganache), it is actually a far cry from that mass-produced snack. The Ganache cupcake is super moist and fresh and scrumptious, the filling is delicate whipped cream instead of a glop of sugar-laden fat (or is that fat-laden sugar?) and the frosting is divinely rich ganache (made with a touch of coffee to bring out the chocolate flavor). And no preservatives, of course.

“I like the creativity of cupcakes,” offered Dohojda. Silicon Valley, she noted, was fine in terms of creativity “when it was new and the start-ups were exciting.” But as start-ups grew into bigger, more competitive businesses, Dohojda’s work lost its creative luster.

“That’s why we change our menu every month,” said Zimmerman. “We get bored!”

Cupcake Crusader also offers catering for events, from baby showers to weddings, as well as cupcake-decorating parties for kids.

“We get more customers every day,” marveled Zimmerman, acknowledging that her business did indeed hit the boutique-cupcake wave that has swept large cities across the nation, and is still riding high as the only cupcakery in Chico. “We still get tons of new customers.”