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The story behind Shuga Pie Cake Shop, Babylon's newest craze

Newsday food writer Scott Vogel spends the day

Newsday food writer Scott Vogel spends the day with Shuga Pie Shop owners Micheline Cummings and Terry Haughy to learn the story behind their success in Babylon. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware; Photo credits: Yvonne Albinowski, Jeremy Bales, Micheline Cummings

The whole thing was like a zombie movie. "It was 28 degrees, a little drizzly," recalled Terry Haughy. "We thought nobody would be out there."

"Then we started hearing people knocking on the window," continued Micheline Cummings, shivering at the memory. "You had to be quiet inside."

On the other side of the glass was what could only be described as a ragtag horde of sweets-seekers, all in ravenous pursuit of something most of us had never heard of a few months ago: shuga pies. Cummings, the baker, and Haughy, her assistant, long- time partners in life and business, seemed in danger of becoming victims of their own success. They had already made peace with the need to sneak in through the back door of their Shuga Pie Cake Shop, quietly toting plastic bins loaded with the name- sake sweets, sorted by flavor, which they had baked at a co-op kitchen in Amityville. They knew their fans had grown more brazen in the weeks since the opening of their Babylon Village storefront in December, but at least before, they’d been able to turn the lights on first.

Then again, on some level, perhaps they knew this day would come. In an admirable but ultimately doomed attempt at staving off the mob, Cummings and Haughy had opened the hardest-to-find shop in the village, a place so tiny there wasn’t even room for an oven (hence Amityville). They’d kept the front entrance locked—for COVID reasons? Crowd control?—which made their shuga pies accessible only via a small window on a nondescript alleyway. Manning the window was the job of Haughy, a burly man with a propensity for wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts in winter and saying things like "I’m a hitchhiker by trade." None of this deterred the swarm, however, nor did the shop being open just three days a week.

"It was so cold," said Haughy. "The line actually went down and around the corner," Cummings said. "I opened up the blinds. It was like locusts."

"Never open the blinds!" he reminded her with mock solemnity. "People were wrapped up in blankets, and parkas with the fur."

"And don’t make eye contact!" laughed Cummings in reply. In less than two hours on that miserable day in February, every shuga pie was gone.

Just as with all good zombie movies, humans were partially responsible for their own fates—Cummings and Haughy, yes, but also their friend Don, who had started all this a few years ago when he wandered into Madame Butterfly Cakes, the pair’s previous shop, where their focus had been elaborate, multitier creations for weddings and other special occasions. Given the exacting nature of Cummings’ work, there were often leftover scraps, some of them sawed-off cake layers that had domed up during baking. The fact that these were ordinarily discarded seemed to hurt Don in some fundamental way. So Cummings slapped some frosting between two unused cake tops and presented him with the sandwich.

"His smile made the bottoms of his ears go up," remembered Haughy. "He went out in the middle of the road and went, ‘Everybody needs to get these!’ He was just goofing off but that whole week, people started coming in and saying ‘I want a small cake.’ "

Don was only the first human moved to stagger trancelike into the streets by what the couple decided to call a shuga pie. Once the pandemic sent the wedding cake business into a nosedive and Cummings began to experiment with creating shuga pies on purpose—in flavors such as vanilla crumb and death by chocolate and cherry lime rickey and unicorn poop—the word got out. Shuga pie fans didn’t even mind the fact that they were vegan.

So what is the extraordinary appeal of these little (four-inch) cakes? You might be tempted to finger the pandemic, which has previously unleashed a disturbing culture-wide fascination with stuffed cookies, hot cocoa bombs, and other questionable forms of self-care. But would an 80-year-old woman wait in line for 45 minutes in freezing weather for those things? Doubtful. A shuga pie, however, is another matter entirely. "She said, ‘This is fun,’ " Haughy reported.

He went on to speculate that witchcraft might be behind his partner’s cake sandwiches, which cost $3.50 or $4.50, depending on the flavor. Cummings would admit only to surrise at their reception. "I would never wait on line for cake."

A theory: "The biggest, most successful sellers of cake in the United States are Walmart and Costco," said Cummings, the implication being that there may be whole swaths of the country that just aren’t eating very good cake. So when something like shuga pies come along—fresh and luscious and soft and not overly sweet ....

A sound. A rapping on the window, louder than before. Murmurs from the crowd. There was no ignoring them any longer. It was time to open the window, and for Haughy and Cummings to meet their fate.

Shuga Pie Cake Shop is at 135 Deer Park Ave. (in the alley between Swell Taco and Fitness Incentive), Babylon Village; 631-669-1069, shugapie.com

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