As the saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Bayville native Susan Rust took a similar approach when her boss handed her a pink slip. She made pink cupcakes.
Although Rust, 32, had been cooking since she was 14 years old, she only started baking in 2004 when a friend gave her cupcake cookbook as a Christmas gift. Before long, she was coming up with her recipes and testing them on friends and family. After she was laid off from her office job in 2009, her husband, Michael Rust, 46, encouraged her to turn her newfound hobby into a business.
“It was really his idea,” she said.
Rust started out by renting a commercial kitchen in Oyster Bay and served cupcakes at events hosted by St. Gertrude’s Church in Bayville.
“I got eight generations of referrals from the first winter festival I did, so that really got people in the town involved,” she said.
Over the next three years, Rust delivered special occasion cupcakes and cakes to her growing client base, which stretched into Manhattan, Queens and Suffolk County.
In 2012, she leased a vacant space at 38 Bayville Ave. in “The Stands” section of Bayville for her own store, Suzie Cakez Cupcakes. That same day, Rust, who has more than a dozen tattoos, added a new one to her left arm: a replica of her store’s logo. She doesn’t regret either decision.
In fact, Wednesday marked the store’s anniversary. Now a popular attraction, locals stalk her Facebook page to find out the “Flavor of the Day,” and she gets calls throughout the day from people asking her to save some of the special cupcakes.
“Usually, the specials go early, because I only make enough for the day,” she said. Any leftovers, they are donated to places such as the local nursing home. Then she starts from scratch at 5 a.m. the next day.
Rust says she can turn pretty much any flavor into a cupcake. Her creations have included Nutella, key lime pie, bacon and cannoli cupcakes, and seasonal favorites such as strawberry lemonade and egg nog. She’s also made liquor-infused cupcakes — Irish Car Bomb, Tequila and Mimosa — for numerous 21st birthday parties.
People rushed to buy cereal-infused creations during one of Rust’s theme weeks.
“She sold out by 1 p.m. and there were people posting on her blog, ‘We need more!’”
said Christine Edwins, 34, of Bayville, whose daughter, Molly, loves Rust’s “Fruity Pebbles” cupcake.
In the past year, Rust has hosted 25 kids parties in the store, weekly enrichment programs at the local elementary school and a few ladies’ nights. Together with the neighboring wine and liquor store, she’s also held a free wine and cupcake tasting party at sunset on her store’s patio. The next one will be Aug. 2.
“A lot of my customers are her customers,” said Michael Carrozza, 44, proprietor of the family-owned Bayville Wines & Liquors. “We can help each other.”
When the Bayville Chamber of Commerce held a celebration to mark the reopening on West Shore Road, which was closed for seven months due to superstorm Sandy damage, Rust made a cake shaped like the Bayville Bridge.
“She’s very original and she’s got a lot of spunk,” Edwins said. “She’s brought a lot to the community and I know she has more to offer.”
Rust will be hosting a customer appreciation party on Saturday, July 20, at 3 p.m. to mark the store’s one-year milestone.
“The town has really embraced me,” she said. “It’s more than I ever could have imagined.”