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Why $2 cupcakes conquer Arab appetites

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(Read caption) A cupcake shop is just one of many American-style stores that has proliferated across Amman over the past five to 10 years.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

For those who’ve never been to Amman, Sugar Daddy’s Bakery might seem an anomaly.

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In the heart of the Arab capital, it’s an American bakery that specializes in cupcakes, inspired by the likes of The Magnolia Bakery in New York City, which itself rose to fame, in part, by being featured on the popular TV show “Sex and the City.”

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The shop is just one of many American-style stores that has proliferated across Amman over the past five to 10 years. Among many Jordanian elite, what’s American or Western has become what’s cool.

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“It’s a badge of honor if you can speak English fluently, and with that comes the desire for American products,” says Fadi Jaber, owner and founder of Sugar Daddy’s. Mr. Jaber estimates that about 60 or 70 percent of his Jordanian customers who come into the shop speak English. Most of his workers had to learn English on the job.

Indeed, the hunger for American or American-style products has spread across the region. After opening his shop in Amman in July 2007, Jaber went on to open two more: in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and in Beirut, Lebanon; in December 2008. While Jaber knew his store would most likely be moderately successful, he says, “The reality has surpassed our forecast.”

“I just felt that there were a lot of kids who’d studied in the States or who had been there” and wanted something to remind them of their time there, says Jaber.

At a little over $2 per cupcake – about 20 percent of the average Jordanian government worker’s daily wages – Jaber says that only the top 5 percent of Jordanians can afford the “naughty by nature” or “fake blonde” cupcakes from his shop.

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Though prices are the same in his other shops, he says that in Dubai it’s the reverse: Only about 5 percent of people there can’t afford his cupcakes. In Beirut, though people aren’t wealthier than they are in Amman, he says they’re more willing to splurge on sweets.

IN PICTURES: National Cupcake Day