Andrew Karpan


Summer’s a good time to take a walk. When it gets too balmy to stay indoors, local residents may find themselves walking down Myrtle Avenue, a wide commercial boulevard, marked by a surprising number of plazas and ubiquitous pizzerias. Further along, a little beyond the rickety bridge separating the outer rim of Ridgewood from the suburban glaze of Glendale, is Mahalo, a popular Hawaiian-themed bakery that opened in 2015, specializing in cupcakes.

Some cupcakes are delicately damp confections that taste like a dulce de leche kiss (the “Milk Lovers,” $3) or a dense chocolate forest (“Cookies and Cream,” $3). Others are stuffed graciously with mango puree and topped with a mango-infused cream cheese (the “Mango Mango, $3”). Those with time to idle in paradise are urged to discover one of Mahalo’s savvier inventions: a guava-filled vanilla cupcake topped with an oasis of pineapple jam in cream cheese frosting (“Pineapple Guava,” $3).

They are all created by Sue Shiwdin, a former high school social studies teacher, who made the abrupt pivot shortly after her honeymoon to the Hawaiian islands. (Her husband, Mike, runs Mahalo with her.) She had come to New York, originally, at the age of 10 from a small town in rural Guyana. The tropics were close, “practically right near the Amazon,” she said. Mangoes and tamarins hanging on the trees. The town was later bulldozed. “All I had of it was memories,” Shiwdin said.  

Her return, later, to a tropical climate had a Proustian effect. She discovered flavors still stored on the tip of her tongue. A baking hobbyist since her early teens, she spotted a for-rent sign hanging over the recently shuttered Artisanal Creamery, a seasonal parlor that had served ice cream in waffle-coated cups, “It just looked like the perfect place for a bakery.”

Mahalo’s storefront. Courtesy of author.

Cupcakes were the first order of business, a passion of Shiwdin’s, and remain Mahalo’s main draw, where they prominently sit, arranged into some 10 to 15 flavors. Each looks like a bright flower inside the bakery’s glass, as if sitting freshly inside the sleeve of a corner florist. Atop the door, a logo depicts a blank white cupcake inside a large tropical plant.

Small cheesecakes are also available in cupcake size (“I just really love cupcakes!”) and Shiwdin bid off locals looking for their corner ice cream shop by eventually serving scoops of her own. Shiwdin contracts with the eccentric Queens-based Max and Mina’s for a selection of flavors that regularly include pineapple-and-caramel and pog, which is a passionfruit, orange, and guava-flavored fruit drink popular in Hawaii. Another suggestion Shiwdin took, on behest of members of the nearby historically Italian community, were cannolis. Mahalo offers a traditional cannoli, and Guavannoli, which is cannoli cream infused with guava jam. Custom cakes are also available by request.   

A recent project of her’s has been the vegan cupcake, the first variety of which she says took no fewer than six tries to get right. Now it comes in matcha with a blueberry frosting and an agave frosting over carrot cake (the “Honey Bunny,” $3.50). A vegan passion fruit flavor flavor is currently a work-in-progress, which Shiwdin hopes to debut this summer.  

Pineapple and guava cucpake. Courtesy of Mahalo.

“A place like this very rare,” says Nick Caputo, a local writer, lifelong Bushwick and Ridgewood resident and one of Mahalo’s earliest and most effusive converts. He says he stops every morning, where coffee is also served along with a program of flavored lattes.

Small plastic tropics decorate this paradisal island near the border of Queens. This pleasantness has, in fact, been certified. In 2016, The Ridgewood Times reported that Mahalo had entered the pantheon of Yelp’s top 100 businesses.

“I want to give people a taste of family. That’s what this has always been about,” Shiwdin says and the pleasant affectations of her employees speak to this. They are very nice here and smile a lot. I have never been treated this way in a Van Leeuwen.

Shiwdin is ambitious too and betrays the steely resolve of someone who has, indeed, baked something six times in order to get a flavor just the way she remembered it 20 years ago in a home that doesn’t exist anymore. And what success. You really can’t find these flavors anywhere else. And they should be everywhere.

Cover image courtesy of @ThisGirlEats.

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