Utah County has long been a haven for foodies, with cuisines and specialties from across the globe offering countless unique and authentic experiences.

But it’s not just main course meals making a mark on the area’s unique culinary cabaret. Desserts also have played a huge role in shaping the landscape of soul-inspiring sustenance, with each restaurant or shop curating an optimal experience for diners that’s both unique and on trend.

So what are dessert trends?

If you’ve lived in the area for any length of time, you’ve probably seen an ample number of eateries come and go, especially when it comes to the after-dinner specialties. Through the years, waves of frozen yogurt shops have popped up along the Wasatch Front, mingling with unique ice creameries before being largely overtaken by an insane demand for gourmet cupcakes.

And don’t even get us started on soda shacks with their sweet treats. Now, it seems cookies are coming to the forefront, with freshly baked options, late-night deliveries and a hearkening back to the classic comfort of warm cookies and milk.

With trends regularly shifting, how do local business owners stay on top? Here’s a look at three unique dessert spots that are going beyond the trends to serve their customers.

The Wash

1195 N. Canyon Road in Provo

When it comes to desserts, it’s hard to find something more unique than The Wash, a former “car wash turned late-night urban eatery.”

Previously the Cougar Car Wash, the venue offers a variety of fries and grilled cheese in the way of food, with an ample helping of mixed drinks and desserts spanning from “Tabletop S’mores” to “Pizookie” (a fresh baked cookie with ice cream), not to mention churro bites and churro ice cream sandwiches.

Founded and owned by Sean Kang, The Wash is geared toward filling a void in the culinary scene in Provo.

“It’s a highly experience-focused restaurant,” Kang said. “Creating an atmosphere where people could go and be and hang out was something I always dreamed of.”

Born and raised in Provo, Kang said there wasn’t much of a shift in social atmosphere when he started going to college there, so when the opportunity presented itself to create something unique with The Wash, especially something that could fill a need, he jumped on it.

“It’s business with a personality,” he explained. “There are a lot of big businesses coming in and they’re very efficient and good at what they do, but there’s something about the small business.”

Kang’s family has been in the restaurant business for 12 or 13 years now, starting with taking over the existing Yamoto Japanese Restaurant in Orem before opening a series of Pho Plus restaurants that were recently sold within the family. It was recognized across the board that there was strong potential for a great eatery at the old car wash location, but it took just the right amount of creativity and ambition to make the shift to an experience-based business like The Wash.

“The Wash is more of a passion project,” Kang said, noting that he also works as an information analyst at a tech company in American Fork with The Wash filling his time around that. “It really comes down to atmosphere. I think the target population I had in mind when I opened the restaurant was college students. … We’ve done really well attracting that crowd and setting that tone, but I would like to see it moving a little bit more of a family-friendly direction – more of the community is the dream that I have, where people say, ‘If you go to Provo, go check out The Wash.’ ”

When it comes to other businesses in Provo with similar markets, Kang said he hopes the experience is what sets The Wash apart.

“A lot of other business models are very successful, like cookies places and soda shops, but they’re not so much in my mind about creating experiences for people as fulfilling a need,” he said. “I just really feel like The Wash was my chance to give Provo and the community something that I wish that I had.”

Though The Wash offers frozen, hot and specialty drinks alongside sodas, desserts and a basic food menu, a lot of its success and popularity comes back to the vibe.

“There’s something for everyone,” Kang said. “It’s a chance to experience a nightlife Provo hasn’t had before that’s clean, friendly and not intimidating.

“My family actually owned that car wash for going on nine years now,” Kang continued. “I used to be there collecting coins, emptying trash from vacuums and breaking up ice in the winter. It’s cool to see it transform from an old car wash into this new scene.”

As to the future, Kang said he’s considering transitioning from just an evening establishment to including brunch hours with an internet café vibe that’s not only close to campus but a venue that provides more options for the rest of the community as well.

“That’s the direction we’re headed into,” Kang said. “It might not happen for a few months but it’s on the horizon.”

Crumbl Cookies

586 N. 900 West in American Fork, 1820 W. Traverse Parkway in Lehi, 677 N. State St. in Lindon, 160 E. University Parkway in Orem, 152 W. 1230 North in Provo, 24 Pioneer Crossing in Saratoga Springs, 330 N. Main St. in Spanish Fork

With 21 stores currently open and 40 total now in the works, including, by popular demand, in Ogden, what started as just a dream between crazy cousins has turned into a pretty delicious and profitable reality.

Crumbl Cookies was founded in 2017 by cousins Jason McGowan (co-founder and CEO) of Provo and Sawyer Hemsley (co-founder and COO), who was, at the time, attending school in Logan.

According to McGowan, “Crumbl began as a small cookie shop in the small town of Logan, Utah. It started with one big dream, two crazy cousins and the perfect combination of flour, sugar and chocolate chips.”

After “thousands of dollars in wasted dough” and recipes that failed to meet expectations, McGowan and Hemsley knew they needed to take their business to the next level if it was going to survive or thrive. That’s where McGowan’s background in the software industry came in to play – the duo began A/B testing the cookies – tweaking just one ingredient or cooking process between two cookies and taking them to local places such as gas stations to get opinions from the public. The final product, they believe, is the world’s best chocolate chip cookie – a staple, along with chilled sugar, on a menu that rotates weekly.

“We’re always trying to be different, better and special from everyone else,” Hemsley said. “First, we offered all our different flavors at our Logan location. Then we realized there were so many cookies we couldn’t keep all the flavors in stock.”

With that in mind, they now select four additional flavors for each week that rotate every Monday.

“We have over 40 flavors with a lot more on the list being tested out in our test kitchen,” Hemsley explained. “We’re always thinking with the team of new, different flavors for people … it’s always fun to keep coming up with them.”

But cookie testing and a variety of flavors aren’t the only way Crumbl is staying ahead as the cookie trend takes over Utah County.

“With competition, the first thing is we just don’t think about them,” McGowan said. “We focus 100 percent on our customers and make sure (they) are taken care of.”

“Most cookies are served warm and we make cookies that are made in real time,” Hemsley explained of the customer-first approach. “We crack eggs in front of customers and they see us mixing the flour and sugar. Not only are they amazing, delicious, warm cookies, but we’re providing an experience for the customers that are coming into our location. It’s a fun atmosphere for families to come see the process, also young adults as they date or even our older crowd who just wants to come eat a warm, delicious cookie.”

To ensure quality, McGowan said they focus on using only the best ingredients, including real butter and fresh eggs for the best cookies.

“Everything about our cookies are authentic and real,” he said. “Everything is fresh and the highest quality because our main goal is to have the absolute best cookies in the nation.”

With warm cookies delivered until midnight, a catchy logo and design that’s frequently shared by customers on social media, and a fresh, quality mindset, the duo are revolutionizing the cookie industry.

“We call ourselves the crazy cousins that decided to just start a business – we decided we wanted to do something together and thought cookies would be a fun first start,” McGowan said. “We didn’t even think at the time it’d be what it is today. … When we set out, we didn’t set out to make a big, huge cookie company – we wanted to create awesome cookies that customers love. From that love of pleasing customers we’re where we are today in five states.”

Cravings Alisha’s Cupcakes

93 S. Main St., Suite C in Pleasant Grove

For Alisha Nuttall of Cravings Alisha’s Cupcakes in Pleasant Grove, her highly successful dessert biz actually started thanks to a passion sparked in high school.

“I actually took a home economics class in high school and I fell in love with baking,” Nuttall said. “I was baking for friends and family all the time. After high school, I started doing cakes, brownies, cookies and other desserts. My sister actually said, ‘Cupcakes are getting big, you should start a business with cupcakes.’ ”

And with the shift of a trend, a heaping helping of passion and support from her family and husband, Dave, a new business was born.

“I loved the fact you could make so many different things out of a cupcake,” Nuttall said. “Everything we make is 95 percent from scratch. Sometimes I wish we could call them mini-desserts rather than cupcakes because I do feel like most of our cupcakes are layers of dessert.”

After making cupcakes initially for friends and family, the requests started rolling in, and with some encouragement from a friend, Nuttall found herself featured on “Cupcake Wars.” Not certain what to expect, she was eliminated early on in Season 3 before fielding resounding success in Season 7, winning a redemption episode and the opportunity to have her cupcakes featured at a VIP party for The All-American Rejects.

On Nov. 8, 2012, Cravings Alisha’s Cupcakes became a storefront in downtown Pleasant Grove, a personal dream for Nuttall, and the opportunity to experience magic for anyone that visits.

“Something that sets us apart is the experience in our Pleasant Grove store,” Nuttall said. “We want you to come in and have amazing products, but also have an experience when you come in. I love just watching people come in and their faces just light up. I want them to feel like it’s a magical place.”

And with unicorns, sparkles, pastel colors, a fun play kitchen area for kids and wall-to-wall decorations leading into a beautiful display of baked goods, it’s safe to say it’s magic.

“I like to say that we’re the Disneyland of Pleasant Grove because we’re trying to get that experience,” Nuttall said. “The reason I wanted to do that is my husband’s family loved Disney. I hate the rides but love how happy my kids are watching parades and everything. I wanted to create that in our shops.”

The epic variety of options adds to the experience, including the shop’s Unicorn Floats, which feature Strawberry Italian Cream soda topped with ice cream and “unicorn candy” – glitter, sprinkles, marshmallows, cotton candy and more topped with a magical surprise.

Combine that with 20 flavor options including 8-10 that rotate monthly, as well as sugar cookies, brownie bars, candied pecans, lemon bars, toffee, homemade oreos, trifles and gluten free donuts, and there’s literally something for everyone, as long as you’re willing to try something new.

“Our goal was when we first started to constantly have different flavors, but we noticed in Utah they think it’s cool to see new flavors but for the most part, they want to come get the cupcake dessert they wanted,” Nuttall said. “I always tell people I think the smartest way to try our product is coming in with a group of friends to try a bunch of them. … You’ll always be pleasantly surprised on what you like or what you don’t like.”

Not only are the final cupcakes beautifully presented, but they’re layered with handcrafted, delicious ingredients that take on a unique flavor of their own.

“People are thinking (a cupcake) is just cake and frosting – we do that but more,” Nuttall said. “Our Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake has layers of cupcake with ganache, cheesecake, mousse, whipped cream and frosting.”

To include more people in tasting different flavors, Cravings also does monthly tasting giveaways as well as hosting a weekly Happy Hour form 9 p.m. to close on Saturdays with everything half off.

“A lot of people actually try new things,” Nuttall said of the discount. “I’ve gotten a lot of new customers because someone has given them one because they were half off, so that’s been great. … I’ve also gotten a lot of following for cookies and other desserts. A lot of times they’re the only thing left for happy hour so people get it and realize, ‘That was actually good!’ then come back and get it during regular hours.”

Ultimately Nuttall said she takes note of competition but focuses on doing her own thing, which makes her shop so unique.

“Why wouldn’t you just come up with your own idea?” Nuttall said. “Obviously we look at competitors and what they’re doing, but I don’t want to copy. … That my big thing, and I think that’s why we’re pretty successful still and we’ve done well.”

Kari Kenner manages and creates digital features and niche content for the Daily Herald.

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