By Jeff Kronenfeld
As I stare into the xenomorph’s eyeless forehead, I feel like an alien is about to burst from my torso. Luckily, the creature’s head is part of a costume from the 2004 film “Alien vs. Predator” and the kick in my chest only a burp. At Spooky’s Swirls, sweets and creeps are never in short supply. Located in Chandler at the intersection of Elliot and Alma School roads, it’s part gluten-free bakery and part shrine to pop culture history. Whether you have celiac disease or not, Spooky’s is perfect for a quirky morning date or a kid’s birthday party.
Lola Forbes and Chris Szydlowski are both pastry chefs and owners of Spooky’s. For over 20 years, Szydlowski has cooked in and managed kitchens across the country. Forbes graduated with honors from Le Cordon Bleu in 2009 and has 15-years of restaurant experience. In particular, she explored glutton-free, vegan and other kinds of specialty diet baking. Inclusivity is very important to both women, who married each other four and a half years ago. Of course, they had a costume party wedding reception, attending as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, and even rented an adult bouncy house. Ensuring everyone can share in the fun is central to why Spooky’s is entirely glutton-free. “It's for the little gluten-free kids who've never had a birthday cake,” Forbes explained. “You get to do something special for these kids who show up to other birthday parties and only get to eat tortilla chips.”
Forbes estimates about two-thirds of their customers come because it’s glutton-free. The other third comes for the museum of film memorabilia. Szydlowski’s mother hooked her on horror films young. She became a huge movie buff and toy collector. Collections of toys gave way to props and costumes from her favorite flicks. She befriended others who shared her passion, such as James Azrael, who works in the entertainment industry and founded the Horror and SciFi Prop Preservation Association (HSPPA). She also met Ernesto Avino, another collector and HSPPA curator. Spooky’s started as a food cart. Due to its popularity, Forbes and Szydlowski decided to get a brick and mortar store. They approached Azrael and Avino about becoming partners, who accepted. Szydlowski jokes it was as much to free up space in their homes, which were overflowing with monster body parts, fake weapons and a menagerie of other unique items.
As Szydlowski walks me through the current exhibits, she becomes progressively more animated. The displays rotate from the over 4,000 items in the HSPPA’s archive, as well as from the owner’s personal collections. If you had a nightmare about it as a kid, it’s probably here. Jason, Freddie Krueger, Pinhead, the Fly and other murderous antagonists stare out with eternal grimaces. The head, horns, and hands of the titular furball from the recent live-action Beauty and The Beast receive their own glass case. Though I didn’t catch it, Szydlowski assures me it’s quite popular with the elementary school set. Even a few superheroes are present, such as Spiderman and parts of the Thing. For me, a wooden shield from the film “Willow” and a dope jacket from “Little Shop of Horrors” stoked my nostalgia. If you’re a latchkey baby trying to reconnect with your childhood, Spooky’s is a good place to start.
The heroes, villains, and monsters on display also inspire the food itself. When I visited, there were mini mummies, pumpkin minis, other mini cupcakes, and vegan PB super balls. There were also cupcakes stuffed with a variety of sweet syrups. The raspberry vamps burst with blood-like red jam. Given Szydlowski’s particular affection for the Alien franchise, there were Xeno cupcakes. They looked like small alien heads. Lime green goo fills their insides, an homage to the extraterrestrial’s acidic blood. They also do custom orders, though make sure to call at least seven to 10 days in advance. This week they had been making treats celebrating the Tim Burton classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” They made extra, honoring the paean to Halloween with cupcakes like Jack’s back. Other recent examples include Stay Puft Marshmallow Man cupcakes, crying clown cupcakes for Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker,” and a red velvet cake capped by a ring of skulls bleeding from their eye sockets. Non-scary varieties are available for the more squeamish.
While some items rotate or are seasonal, some are always offered, such as the cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. The fact both pastries were glutton-free was indiscernible from their taste and texture. I preferred the sticky bun, which was doughy, moist and covered in a thick sugary glaze. There’s also scream cheesecake made with a 50-year-old recipe. Spooky’s sells cotton candy, which they produce in-house. To wash it all down, they serve Death Wish Coffee. It claims to contain 200 percent as much caffeine as typical coffee. Since my body is chronically exposed to high doses of caffeine, I didn’t notice the additional kick. The hearty blend makes a nice companion to the racks of old movie magazines available for reading or whatever classic creature feature is on the TV.
While Spooky’s is open all year, it should be no surprise that All Hallows’ Eve is a special day for them. To mark the bakery’s first Halloween, they are hosting a two-day celebrity signing with scream queen Tamara Glynn. She’ll be celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the release of “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Mike Meyers,” which she starred in. Spooky’s hosts other singings throughout the year as well. If you’re the kind of person that believes Halloween lasts all October, then a visit to Spooky’s Swirls should probably be on your bucket list.