Do you remember the saying, “I love you like a fat kid loves cake”? Well I was that fat kid referenced and at 31 I am, unfortunately, still in love with cake. The irony is that I’m not crazy about cupcakes. They’re almost the same thing, but it’s that difference that makes me love cake more.
On Sunday I went to Sprinkles Cupcakes in Georgetown, out of a craving for sweets and out of curiosity over the cupcake craze. Since I don’t watch TV I haven’t been watching the cupcake bakery phenomenon unfold via the Cupcake Wars show. People here keep raving about Georgetown Cupcakes, but the line snaking up the block has always discouraged me from giving the bakery a try. So I was a bit surprised that there was another cupcake bakery right around the corner that also had a long line (less daunting) and that my friend raved about with as much enthusiasm. All in all I loved the cupcakes I bought (red velvet, key lime and vanilla hazelnut chocolate…key lime was my favorite, vanilla hazelnut chocolate could have had a stronger flavor).
Munching on all that sugar got me to thinking – who is the founder of Sprinkles? If they’re “the original cupcake bakery” (note: I found references to Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery, often credited for starting the so-called “cupcake craze” in the 1990s), how’d the owner get started? So today I present my newest She-ro, Candace Nelson.
- Baking runs in Candace’s family, as her French-American grandmother was known for the desserts she created at her San Francisco restaurant in the 1930s.
- Nelson is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Tante Marie’s Professional Pastry Program in San Francisco.
- Before starting her bakery, Nelson and her husband Charles worked as investment bankers. When internet start-ups began going out of business, it was actually a blessing in disguise for Candace. Finding herself with an impressive resume but no job, Candace went to Tante Marie’s Professional Pastry Program in San Francisco. Candace decided to focus on pastry making and opened a custom cake business from her home.
- During visits to Candace’s sister in New York, the couple visited Magnolia Bakery for its cupcakes, which became infamous in the ’90s — thanks to media buzz and a cameo in an episode of HBO’s “Sex & the City.” The cupcake craze had taken off in New York, but in other parts of the country, it was virtually untapped. “We had been there and seen it all happen,” Charles Nelson said. “We were like, OK, I totally get it. I get the cupcake thing; cupcakes are awesome. But we were like, ‘the cupcakes aren’t that great. They could be so much better and really could taste a lot better.'” That’s when their mission to bake a better cupcake began.
- They knew they had to be the best to survive, so the Nelsons spent the next two years developing more than 20 cupcake recipes, including classic vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, ginger lemon, banana and pumpkin.
- On April 13, 2005, the couple opened Sprinkles Cupcakes, the world’s first cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills, California. Though the bakery business was in a four-year no carb slump, they sold 2,000 cupcakes the first week. Candace is described as taking a “sophisticated” take on the classic cupcake, using the finest quality ingredients like sweet cream butter, pure Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Callebaut chocolate. She also creates offbeat offerings like vegan and gluten-free cupcakes and even dog-food cupcakes. The sleek, minimalistic store was designed by an architect from Vienna and the logo and packaging were recreated by a former Martha Stewart employee
- Sprinkles now has 10 locations throughout the United States, with plans to open in 15 more cities including London and Tokyo. In 2007 Candace also developed a line of cupcake mixes which are sold exclusively through her store and Williams-Sonoma stores in the United States and Canada.
- The Nelsons started a traveling “Sprinklesmobile”, a Mercedes Sprinter van designed by Sprinkles architect Andrea Lenardin.
- Sprinkles fans include Oprah Winfrey, Blake Lively, Katie Holmes, Ryan Seacrest, Tom Cruise, Barbra Streisand, and Serena Williams.
- Candace is a judge on the competition series Cupcake Wars. She has also appeared on The Best Thing I Ever Ate and has been a judge on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown show. Nelson also has been featured on television shows, including The Today Show, Nightline, The Martha Stewart Show, and profiled in People magazine. Her cupcakes have been featured by The Oprah Winfrey Show, Bon Appetit magazine, Food & Wine, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
- In an interview with Ladies Who Launch, Candace said ” When you start a business, focus on who and what you are as a company. Yes, you want customers to love your product but resist the temptation to please everyone. Stay true to yourself and you will be successful.”
I found Candace’s story especially inspiring because I’ve met alot of would-be entrepreneurs who second-guess themselves. On the surface the idea of a bakery that only sells 1 type of pastry doesn’t make sense – but Candace analyzed the opportunity before she jumped in and her and her husband gave it everything they had. How inspiring is that! I hope you take this lesson to heart – instead of telling yourself that your idea (whether it’s original or not – we see that it doesn’t have to be) won’t work, do your homework and let the market give you evidence before you dismiss the idea. Go out there and share your talents with the world!