Local grocery store bakeries are probably the most inexpensive choice.
But if gourmet pastries are what you're looking for, , at 52 Main St., isn't a bad gig, either.
Nineteen varieties of the store's muffins have been recognized by the and have won other awards. Phantom Gourmet loves the Strawberry Shortcake, but Blueberry is the most popular with customers, which haven't stopped coming in since the Wakefield location opened in 1995.
General manager Michele Clements, of Wilmington, started off as a cashier at age 15 (more than 24 years ago) in the Winchester location, just 15 minutes away from Wakefield, adding there is a high retention rate. She graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a Bachelor's in Marketing and Management in 1995.
Before that, a trading post, owned by the Quannapowitt Indians, was in the current building that due to its close proximity to Route 128 quickly became busier and more popular than the original Winchester location, according to the company's website. Wakefield is now the company's main construction and baking site.
Today, Gingerbread Construction Company has 25 to 30 employees in the Wakefield location alone, counting bakers and cashiers. Ten to 15 are in the Winchester joint, which is four times smaller and take-out only. The Wakefield location has two large tables and employees say many customers go there while visiting the nearby hospital, especially since it sells gifts and stuffed animals.
Gingerbread houses can't be baked in the summer due to the humidity, so that is how the other goodies came into the picture. They are more of a seasonal item—Clements mentioned the company also sells Halloween, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and a Bunny Basket. Ten thousand houses are sold annually.
"It's a nice change from the fruit basket for clients and employees," Clements said. "A lot of people think gingerbread houses are just for looks, but they taste yummy. Our muffins are the bread and butter of the company—they keep us afloat all year long. On Christmas Eve, 150 to 200 muffin orders are placed ahead of time, and there's a line out the door."
Two-year cashier Julia Deane, of Wakefield, who graduated from this summer, agreed that many customers think the houses are more for looks, and to try other products other than the most popular ones.
"Our Oat Bran muffin is the least popular, but I tried it, and it's actually pretty good," Deane suggested. "My favorite breakfast one is the Raspberry Blueberry, and Chocolate Dream at night."
She tends to work the closing shift while Clements opens. Both work longer hours during the holidays.
Customers can shop online and create an account to keep track of orders. They ship across the continental U.S., excluding Alaska and Hawaii, but the muffins are too fragile to be mailed out. Credit cards, excluding American Express, are acceptable forms of payment.
As for its involvement in the community, customers often buy a smoothie while walking ; buy dozens of muffins for large group gatherings; visit and stop by since it is conveniently located.
Rosalie DeMedeiros, of Wilmington, brings her three children there every week, and every month, they add a stuffed animal to their collection. She's bought them pigs, ducks, and frogs, but monkeys are their favorite. For the small Aurora animals, prices range from $6 to $10. They enjoy crossing the street after and playing at the park.
As for their favorites, DeMedeiros' children order the Chocolate Chip Cookies, and she orders the Oatmeal Cookie and Carrot Cake Muffin faithfully at least weekly for the past three years. She said staff probably added new menu items over the years, but since they always order the same products, they honestly haven't noticed.
"It's a healthier dessert," DeMedeiros joked. "It's made fresh daily, and you can actually see the oatmeal in the cookies, and the smoothies have real fruit in them. It's a healthier, unhealthy snack."
She added for locals, they always run into people they know since it serves "good quality food with nice service." The demographic is 25 to 40 years old, and there is always constant traffic.
"It's by far the best coffee over Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, for the price, freshness and atmosphere," DeMedeiros continued. "It's very kid-friendly. We just had a coffee spill, and they quickly came over to clean it up—didn't get upset."
Likewise, Clements wouldn't buy a muffin anywhere else. Her favorite is Coffee Cake.
Lawrence Staff, 81, of North Reading and a 35-year Wakefield resident, buys a muffin and coffee every day, costing $3.80. He mentioned pricing is reasonable, especially with the rest of the market.
Staff noted beauty is the eye of the beholder, but he has tried nearly all the muffins, especially the Apple-n-Spice, Boston Kreme, and Corn. One item he hasn't tried are the smoothies, but plans to before the summer ends. He also hasn't tried the Cranberry Walnut, Banana Creme, or Lemon Poppy Seed.
"I'd definitely give this place a high recommendation," Staff continued. "The muffins are very delicious. They're tastier than Dunkin' Donuts, and the overall flavor's better. I remember when the Tepee sold Native American trinkets; Howard Johnson and the fried food place was here many moons ago."
He has been a customer since it opened, and said it didn't carry gifts originally.
"We have great customers and great employees," Clements pointed out, "We feel very lucky—the community's been very good to us, so we try to be good to the community."
The Wakefield store is at 52 Main St., Wakefield, Mass. 01880, and can be reached at 781-246-2200. The store is open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Baking starts at 3 a.m.), Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Winchester store is at 562 Washington St., Winchester, Mass. 01890, and can be reached at 781-729-7700. The store is open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For information, visit http://gingerbreadusa.com/locations/.