For internet tech whiz Candace Nelson, the dot com bust was the best thing to come along since pre-sifted flour. That’s because, finding herself with an impressive resume but no job, Candace happily followed her secret sweet tooth to pastry school, leaving her previous investment banking career behind in pursuit of sugar, butter and a mega-watt mixer. After graduation she started a business from home, putting her tasty techniques on display in show-stopping custom cakes. But Candace soon realized that as much as customers might like to, they couldn’t eat three tiers a day, and dessert, Candace believed, should be a quotidian affair to remember. So she pared her creations down to palm-size, moved to LA, and opened Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, a 500 square foot modern day take on an old fashioned bakery offering the same Candace-made confections but in cupcake capacity. Today there are six Sprinkles stores with more on the way, meaning Candace’s fame is growing. But don’t worry-the dimensions of her delectable little cakes will always stay the same. Because after all, enjoying dessert in moderation is the key to happiness. Otherwise the carbs are stacked against you.
What we learned from Candace: 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.
Three Tiers for Candace!
After the dot com bust, I had a wealth of tech and internet experience and no job. I looked inward and asked myself what kind of career would make me happy. I come from a long line of excellent bakers and I decided that being up to my elbows in sugar, butter, and flour was what I wanted to do so I went to pastry school. I loved every second of it and opened a home cake baking business out of my San Francisco kitchen after graduation. But cakes are special occasion purchases and I really do believe that dessert should be a daily pleasure so I started making only cupcakes.
Let Them Eat Cupcakes
There was nothing interesting going on in baking in Los Angeles so my husband and I moved to LA and started searching for retail space. We found a tiny spot in Beverly Hills that used to be a sandwich shop and hired a creative director to help us build an old fashioned bakery with a modern, adult flair. We had some money saved so we financed the whole venture ourselves. We bet it all on the business but we believed that by twisting the adult expectation of what a cupcake should be, we could make it work. It was a big leap of faith but when during our grand opening the line stretched out the door and down the street and we sold out in two hours, we knew we were onto something.
In the beginning I worked seven days a week and slept two hours a night. I was in the back mixing, baking, and frosting and my husband worked the front. It was intense and we were physically exhausted. And think about it – Sprinkles opened in 2005 at the height of the low carb craze so on the surface, what we were doing seemed insane. But people can and should have dessert every day as long as they indulge in moderation. It’s all about portion control. People buy our cupcakes because we make them fresh all day long using only the best, most high quality ingredients. When something is well-made and is in your hand practically right out of the oven, it’s worth eating. A few bites and you’re done, you’re happy, you’re satisfied. And most importantly, you don’t feel guilty.
A Taste Sensation
Almost from the very beginning, people were coming to our Beverly Hills store from far and wide. Our marketing was pure word of mouth. Celebrities like Oprah, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were big fans. We had regular customers who would drive over an hour to get our cupcakes. The demand was so high that we opened another store in Newport Beach, another in Dallas, one in Phoenix, and we created a Sprinkles cupcake mix that is sold exclusively by Williams Sonoma. Every time we open a store we go live in the city to make sure everything is just right, the training, techniques, ingredients, atmosphere – everything. We’re always true to our brand . We never sell day old cupcakes at half price, we use the freshest ingredients, and we never skimp when it comes to our staff who represent our company and sell our cupcakes. All these “extras” come at a cost but we believe, and obviously our customers believe, it’s worth it.
This Featured Lady was profiled by Susie Lacey.