We visited with Nelson at the opening of her first New York City outpost to discuss the Oprah effect, what's next and how to beat the "just another cupcake shop" rap.
My thought was to take this beloved American treat and elevate it with ingredients used for special occasion cakes. Working with beautiful chocolates, vanillas, making cupcakes in other flavors than chocolate and vanilla. Something for everyone’s tastes. The idea was that if we did that, cupcakes could really stand on their own.
Prior to opening our Beverly Hills location, there had never been a retail bakery that sold just cupcakes. There were certainly bakeries known for cupcakes as we know Magnolia and Crumbs, but they are traditional bakeries. We developed a new genre of bakery. Now, you can go into towns across the country and there is a name for it, the cupcakery. That term didn’t even exist before.
The idea was to make a more sophisticated cupcake while keeping the same elements of playfulness and fun so a kid can still enjoy it. From there came the look of the bakery which was modern, sophisticated yet playful with the colors. We were lucky to work with someone who really got it. It definitely starts with the product. People appreciate a beautiful space and the artfulness of the cupcake, but it starts with the product."
There is also an element of consistency from location to location.
We train everyone in Beverly Hills; everyone who goes to a location outside of Beverly Hills has been working with us for years. We have a great general manager, and we are constantly on the road checking up on things."
You are credited widely for igniting this cupcake craze around the country by opening the first “cupcakery.” How do you feel about other imitations and did you know that it would be a success?
When we first opened day one, we didn’t know if anyone would knock on our door. Once we realized it was a legitimate business concept, it had legs that were stronger than we could ever imagine."
Was it a conscious decision to pace your expansion? Beverly Hills opened in 2005 and you are just opening in New York.
Was it tough to find a location in New York?
Tell us about your signature Sprinkle.
How do you train your bakers? Is it hard to maintain that same quality control when you aren’t there 24 hours a day?
The other part of it is there are so many steps along the way that everyone becomes an expert in the kitchen. There are checks and balances, 'Oh this doesn’t look right,' or 'oh, it’s not rising properly in the oven' - everyone is looking out for that. So it’s been OK so far. We make about 1500 cupcakes a day per location."
How long does it take to perfect each recipe?
What is your favorite flavor?
How often do you eat a cupcake?
How would you describe the signature taste to someone who hasn’t had it before?
How did you create the idea of a “whisper word?” [A word on Twitter and Facebook that is the “secret key” to daily free cupcakes.]
We spoke to Gayle King about her love of Sprinkles. How influential were your celebrity endorsements?
When and how did Oprah essentially endorse you?
Have you ever thought about expanding beyond cupcakes?
Any secrets you can share with us?
How can we perfect our own cupcakes at home? [You can buy Sprinkles mix at Williams-Sonoma)
What advice do you have to other entrepreneurs?
What is the best way to store a cupcake?
Previously - Cupcakes & me: a love story