When it comes to the world of baking, Candace Nelson, Founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, has created a slew of firsts: the first cupcake bakery, the first cupcake ATM and the first cupcake truck. She shares what it takes to remain relevant after a decade of success.
LM: Let's start by giving me a snapshot of you and the company.
CN: I founded Sprinkles Cupcakes in 2005 and wrote a New York Times Best Seller called "The Sprinkles Baking Book." I have a new Netflix show that premiered in July called "Sugar Rush" and served as a judge on Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" for 10 seasons. Given my clear obsession for carbs, I opened a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in Brentwood, California last year and am working on its second location. I'm a mother of two boys and my husband, Charles, is also my business partner.
Sprinkles was the world's first cupcake bakery and is credited with starting a worldwide cupcake craze. Our cupcakes - and our iconic Red Velvet - have inspired long lines of devoted Hollywood stars and serious epicureans alike. We bake fresh daily in small batches throughout the day using only the finest ingredients. We have over 20 bakeries across the country, in cities that include Los Angeles, New York City, Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Most of our bakeries now also serve cookies and ice cream, and several have a Cupcake ATM - a 24/7 high-tech machine which dispenses cupcakes any time of the day!
LM: Tell us your origin story. Why you? Why did you start this company?
CN: I was working in investment banking and after the dot com bust, I found myself out of a job. As a child, I had always loved to bake and decided to test my passion to see if it was more than just a hobby. I enrolled in pastry school in San Francisco. Upon graduating, I began a custom cake business out of my house. I soon came to realize that special occasion cakes were, by definition, rare orders. Having been brought up in the tradition that dessert should be a daily indulgence, the idea for Sprinkles was born! I worked on the recipes, finding a location (landlords were not very enthusiastic about the idea of a cupcake bakery back then), tracking down vendors and creating the brand for two years before opening our first 500 square-foot bakery on a sleepy street in Beverly Hills.
LM: What was your favorite part about starting Sprinkles?
CN: Creating a product which is part of people's most special moments, big and small - from marriage proposals to an afternoon treat with grandma. It is also pretty touching to see high school guests come into Sprinkles who I remember as toddlers when we first opened!
LM: You've been successful for over a decade. Many copycat cupcake bakeries have come and gone. Why do you think Sprinkles has been so successful and been able to withstand the test of time?
CN: I believe in never being satisfied and resting on your laurels. At Sprinkles, we had a lot of momentum behind us as the world's first cupcake bakery. But as others began replicating our concept around the word, we needed to work even harder to separate ourselves from the pack. By continuously innovating (creating the world's first cupcake truck, the world's first Cupcake ATM and new product lines) and by building a brand (partnering with Williams-Sonoma to distribute our cupcakes mixes nationwide and investing in public relations), we were able to stay exciting and relevant. Equally important, we always put our product and guest experience first by investing in ingredients and in our employees.
LM: Was there a point you can remember that made you feel like, yes, this is it, I've made it?
CN: We had been open for a few months, and my husband Charles and I were literally sleeping on the bakery floor some nights after 18-hour work days. It was true #startuplife! One afternoon, we got a call from Harpo Studios asking if we could be in Chicago the next morning with 300 cupcakes for The Oprah Winfrey Show. We said "yes!" not knowing how we were going to get it done. But when Oprah calls, you know you've made it. Needless to say, we revved up our mixers, bought some red-eye tickets and hand carried all those cupcakes onto the plane. A couple months later when the episode aired, our business increased by 50%!
LM: Tell me about the Sprinkles ATM and what drove that innovation.
CN: I was pregnant with my second son and had a late-night pregnancy craving. Even as Sprinkles' founder, I couldn't get my midnight cupcake fix! I thought, "there has to be a way," and so the concept of the Cupcake ATM was born. We spent two years perfecting it before launching in 2012.
LM: What is your take on the future of Sprinkles? What's next?
CN: As we plan for the future of Sprinkles, we are committed to putting our guests first and want to make sure we are continuing to create an environment that connects with them. This comes through love and creating phenomenal freshly-made products using the finest ingredients, such as sweet cream butter, pure Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, fresh bananas and carrots and more. Sprinkles and our chef, Charles Craig, are constantly working on innovative new flavors. This can be seen through some of our recent partnerships, such as Tito's Handmade Vodka, and our Royal Wedding cupcake, with many more to look forward to. We are also in an exciting position, offering an assortment of freshly baked goods in addition to our cupcakes, such as, cookies, ice cream, brownies and the newly introduced Layer Cakes. We are also excited to have just launched the Bake Box that is perfect for all your entertaining needs. Look out for much more to come!
Sounds like icing on the (cup)cake.