Cupcake interview with Sandra Bradshaw of Fort Worth's The Cupcake Cottage

Name: Sandra Bradshaw
Title: Owner of The Cupcake Cottage
Age: 44
Location: Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Occupation: School Librarian turn professional baker/business owner
URL: www.thecupcakecottage.com



When and where did you learn to bake and what was your prior baking experience before opening your bakery?

When I was about 10 years old, I started baking under my mom’s instruction a few years after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I continued baking off and on until I had children and started baking regularly for their birthdays and holidays.

Do you use the same recipes you’ve been using all along, and what kinds of standards do you have for your ingredients?

I have to confess that I broke open box cake mixes for most of the birthday cakes. I loved planning theme birthday parties when my children were really little, which took some extra time and imagination. I am not the sort of person that can be in a hurry when baking from scratch so packaged mixes helped me spend time on other things . . . blowing up balloons, sewing super hero capes, planning games. In our shop, however, I only use fresh ingredients for our cupcakes. For example, I use fresh pureed strawberries, freshly squeezed lemon juice and grated zest. The flour I use is unbleached and unbromated. I feel it is important to keep preservatives and additives out of our cupcakes so customers can experience “from scratch” baking.

When and why did you decide to open The Cupcake Cottage?

In October 2005, I was gearing up for our first RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) event at my elementary school library. I had baked lots of mini cupcakes to share with our teachers and staff and as I was walking down the hallway with the last of my “babycakes,” I had a parent run up to me waving a couple of dollar bills begging me to let her have the last cakes. That evening I went home and shared the idea of a cupcake shop with my family at dinner. I told them that if Starbucks can do it with flavored coffee and Ben and Jerry’s can do it with ice cream, then why couldn’t we do it with cupcakes? I was completely unaware that cupcake shops even existed! The next day I googled cupcake shops and up popped Sprinkles and Magnolia Bakery and the Cupcakes Take the Cake site. I was happy to discover my idea wasn’t completely crazy!

How long did it take to go from the initial idea to opening your store?

Eleven months.

What was the cupcake scene in Fort Worth like before you opened? Are/were cupcakes a popular dessert option, or are people starting to realize how delicious they can be because of The Cupcake Cottage?

There were only two bakeries, that I was aware of, that kept cupcakes available for walk-in customers. Unfortunately, they were not always fresh and were limited to basic white and chocolate. Opening The Cupcake Cottage was definitely a good idea. I have customers that walk in our shop “wide-eyed and bushy-tailed,” smiling and confessing their secret passion for cupcakes. Once they eat our cakes they are hooked! It’s our great, fresh-tasting flavors that have quickly built our returning customer base.

Why did you decide on a cupcake-only bakery versus a full-service bakery?

The saying “anything worth doing is worth doing well” best answers this question. If you can do one thing and do it well, then do it! Sure, I could bake cookies, cakes, pies, but I would be afraid of compromising the quality of our cupcakes. Besides, I never get tired or bored with cupcakes. Each one is just so darn cute!

Does this make your production easier and do you plan to stay cupcake-only?

I don’t know if it makes production easier, but it certainly encourages a predictable and organized kitchen. I do plan to keep it a “cupcakes-only” experience. Our diversity lies with our flavors.

You offer standard size cupcakes and mini ones, called babycakes. How big are each of them and which is the most popular, and have you considered offering other sizes?

We use the standard size cupcake liner you would find in the baking section of most grocery stores and our babycakes are the size of a mini-muffin. We’ve considered the jumbo size liner and even “cupcake tops,” but our standard size and babycakes are doing well so we’ll just stick with those sizes.

You offer some classic flavors as well as more unusual ones like applesauce, orange chocolate chip, kahlua, egg nog, and cinnamon chocolate. How often do you experiment with new flavors, and which have proven to be the most popular?

I did all my experimenting last year months before we even found a place for our shop so I was pretty comfortable with the flavors I selected for our menu. I plan to play with a chocolate chili flavor soon. Our most requested flavors are favorite chocolate (very moist due to the freshly brewed coffee in the batter), lemon and strawberry.

You also have special holiday flavors through January, including peppermint candy cane, pumpkin, and holiday spice. Did you notice a spike in orders during the holidays?

Indeed, we were incredibly busy for the holidays. After being open less than the months, we had over 70 dozen special orders placed for the Saturday before Christmas. We had to stop taking orders a few days before so we could actually accommodate the requests. It’s been great because now we are meeting the many people who ate our cupcakes at a holiday gathering or party and have gone out of their way to find us. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising!

Are cupcakes becoming a treat to share with the whole family?

Absolutely! Family members come in and choose flavors that they know their loved ones will want and appreciate. I often hear “these are for after dinner” as a customer is walking out the door, smiling, with a pink box in tow.

Are there any flavors you’ve considered offering that haven’t quite worked out when you tested out the recipes or that you plan or want to offer in the future?

I discovered that recipes calling for brown sugar make for a harder cake. I’m staying away from brown sugar in my cakes. I am currently looking for the perfect pecan cake recipe so I can use the collected pecans from our tree in the backyard.

What time of day and week are the busiest for you?

We see customers throughout the day, but it gets really busy after lunch and after school hours. It’s not unusual for carpool moms to drive up and grab cupcakes to treat their little passengers.

You’re open on Saturday from 10:00 “until the last cupcake is sold!” Do you ever find that you run out much earlier than you’d planned?

We received some unexpected (and deeply appreciated) publicity in our local paper in December and sold out an hour or two after opening for the following three days. No matter how many more cupcakes we baked, we sold them within a few hours of opening. Things have now settled into a much steadier pace, and our customers are realizing that preordering or calling us to hold cupcakes guarantees they get what they want.

How many cupcakes do you sell on any given day?

This past month we have sold an average of 250 cupcakes a day.

Since you bake your cupcakes daily from scratch, what do you do with any leftovers at the end of the day?

In the past two weeks there was only one day where we had four leftover cupcakes. Those went home with us! We just haven’t had the leftover situation since November. When we first opened and had leftovers we would take them to the local fire station, police station or nursing home. Our shop behaves much like a traditional English village bakery. As the day wears on the cases dwindle, so visiting or phoning us early in the day secure your cupcake needs.

Do you get a lot of foot traffic or do most people seek you out specifically?

When we first opened, we depended on foot traffic and drive-by shoppers, which allowed us to grow slowly. With each new day we get more and more customers on a cupcake quest.

Have you found that there’s a typical customer or are your cupcake fans varied?

Our customers vary in age, size, income, and gender but they all have one thing in common and that is that they love cupcakes!

Since you opened the shop four months ago, have you refined your cupcake-baking technique in any way?

Not really because I had thought through how to bake a lot of cupcakes as efficiently as possible without rushing and possibly making mistakes with ingredients. I put into practice my vision of creating somewhat of an assembly line of each recipe. I set out my laminated recipes and bowls and then take each ingredient and measure it out at one time, seal the container, and move to the next ingredient until all has been measured. Then I just begin mixing, scooping and baking.

Are there any tips you can offer budding bakers?

Read your recipes carefully, measure accurately and test each flavor before offering it to customers. You should be able to share your tasting experience with your patrons.

What’s the most challenging thing and the most satisfying thing about running The Cupcake Cottage?

The most challenging is balancing the demand of a new business with the needs of family and home. You’ve got to be or become organized if you’re going to make a business work. The most satisfying thing about running The Cupcake Cottage is the customers. Everyone is so happy for our endeavor and has such encouraging words wishing us well. Once they’ve tasted our cakes, they rave about them. Such reactions are a joy to experience.

And now for some personal questions . . .

How often do you eat cupcakes?

I eat a cupcake at least a few times a week. I wish I could say “every day,” but because we don’t mass produce our product I like to keep as many as possible for our customers.

What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?

The smile I have just before I pull the liner off the cake. I think my eyes widen at that moment too. It’s instant satisfaction!

What's your favorite type of cupcake?

ANY and all chocolate! Currently, cinnamon chocolate, also called Mexican chocolate, is my favorite.

How do cupcakes compare/contrast to other baked goods for you?

When my husband and I were first married we lived in England and I quickly discovered the charm of the village bakeries. I had never eaten a hard meringue before and once I discover them I would stop in to get one at least once a week. I would also get fresh baked rolls now and then. I think cupcakes, like meringue, cookies or freshly baked rolls, are popular and craved because they are not an overwhelming treat. They’re the perfect size for one person and are a great treat to share with someone!

Is there any innovation you'd like to see made to the cupcake that would improve it for you?

I would love to see environmentally friendly packaging that can be used to overnight cupcakes to anyone in the United States. The icing has to arrive intact, of course.

Do you bake your own cupcakes? Or (even better) have someone who bakes them for you?

I bake each cupcake and my husband, Juaquin, follows in and frosts each and every one of them. Perhaps we’ll have a baker in the future, but for now we’re it. We want to know every aspect of this business so we can mentor future team members.

What's your first cupcake-related memory?

I can remember walking up and down grocery store aisle when I was very young with my mom and brother and anticipating those glass bakery cases. We were always allowed to pick out a cupcake for later. I particularly remember holiday times and there would be toothpicks with funky chenille figures of Christmas trees, Santa or springtime bunnies topping the cupcakes. Somewhere, in some landfill, there’s an old metal band aid box with a collection of those fuzzy picks!

What's the most fun you've ever had with a cupcake?

I’d have to say the most fun I’ve had with a cupcake is when I hand a babycake to our tiniest customers. They are just so excited to be given their very own cupcake.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yes! I just want to say thanks for the Cupcakes Take the Cake site! Once I discovered and started visiting it I found that it helped keep me motivated and inspired in those early months of planning our business. Anyone looking to start a business, whatever the venture, should surround themselves with positive and energetic people. Your site features such folks! Thanks!!

Comments

James said…
I cant wait to get down there and try her cupcakes they all look lovely. Good luck Sandra in your business i hope it all goes well.
Andrew said…
This is my first time here and I must say ... you've made me REALLY crave a cupcake. Or two. At least two.

I enjoyed the interview.

Andrew (To Love, Honor, and Dismay)
Maureen said…
Enjoyed the interview very much, thanks!
Flashy_Shades said…
what a cute site! now i'm starving!