Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cupcake interview with Marlo Scott, Owner, Sweet Revenge

We hope you'll join us tomorrow (Wednesday, November 19th) at 6 pm for our latest NYC Cupcake Meetup at Sweet Revenge, 62 Carmine Street, NYC (near the A/C/E/B/D/F/Q at West 4th Street); see the Sweet Revenge site for a map or use Hopstop if you need more help. See you there!

Today's interview is with Marlo Scott, owner of Sweet Revenge. All photos by me from Flickr.

Marlo Scott, owner, Sweet Revenge

When did you first come up with the idea for Sweet Revenge? How do you see it fitting into the New York City cupcake landscape?

I came up with the idea for Sweet Revenge in August 2005 when I didn't receive a promotion that I'd been promised at my job in publishing. Sweet Revenge provides patrons with a sexy, upscale experience, and cupcakes that are sexy & upscale too. With the world vibe of my place along with my wines & beers, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the all-Americana/country kitsch/nostalgic environments that some of the other cupcake bakeries provide.

You did a lot of research into the local cupcake market before launching your business. Can you tell us more about your methodology and what you found out?

I visited cupcake bakeries and took note on the volume of patrons/their sex/approximate age/and $ purchases to get estimates on demographics and revenue. I analyzed the success vs. failure rate of cupcake bakeries vs. the national restaurant average. What I learned is that patrons range from 20s-40s and skew toward their mid thirties, split 70% female/30% male in general (exception was at Billy's in Chelsea). I also observed patron demos at some high end local French bistros and found them to be populated by a late thirties crowd and split evenly male vs. female. I compared these observations with zip code level demographic data available and further learned that patrons were affluent, educated and indulgent (spend money on eating out/travel/etc).

Why did you choose Carmine Street, and how has that location affected the kind of food you serve and vibe of your restaurant?

I picked my location because it was the right size space in the right neighborhood, it fit my budget and it had amazing potential to be renovated into exactly what I wanted. Due to the proximity to so many local businesses, I've tweaked the menu to appeal to the lunch crowd.

Sweet Revenge counter
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Your cupcakes are very large, dense and rich, plus they have a unique design. How did you come up with all those elements?

I conducted focus groups with friends and got their perspective on design, size and packaging and flavors/textures. I worked closely with a brilliant consulting chef, Daniel Rosati, who has been a professor of the culinary arts for nearly 25 years. We played around with all of the elements until we achieved the look/taste/texture that was cohesive with my vision for the upscale and world inspired experience of Sweet Revenge.

Which of your cupcakes sells best?

The Crimson & Creme (Raspberry Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese frosting) is my best seller.

Crimson and creme cupcake from Sweet Revenge
Crimson & Creme cupcake

You said that you keep up with customer comments and blog reactions, and have adjusted your menu to better suit your customers, such as launching the Not So Dirty cupcake, a milk chocolate version of the Dirty cupcakes. What other changes have you made, and what have you learned from customer feedback?

I'm very keen to hear what customers have to say and always ask for feedback. The blogs provide tremendous insight. For the first few weeks in business I observed patrons sampling my bundt coffee cake -- they loved the taste but never purchased it. I reinvented it into an individual size portion, and it sells very well. Clearly patrons want their own dessert, and they don't want something that feels shared! I also added sandwiches to the menu after hearing patrons ask for them the first month I was open. I'm going to offer soup ASAP as that's frequently requested now that the weather is chilly!

You also sell cupcake frozen desserts. Can you tell us more about those and how you make them?

We 86'd the frozen stuff since it turned out to be more of a novelty -- plus customers were always asking for fresh-made. As an alternative we make parfaits with our cupcakes, adding whip cream, ganache, gelato, and strawberries.

Frosting shot, Sweet Revenge

I’ve had your vanilla frosting shot, served in a shot glass with a tiny spoon. It’s divine, but also impossible to finish in my opinion, even if you have a sweet tooth. How popular are the frosting shots and how much of one does the average customer eat?

Also a novelty -- patrons get a kick out of the idea of it. The frosting shot has been re-named as a frosting martini since it’s served in a mini-martini glass. When it is purchased, I usually clear from the table a scraped-clean martini glass!

As opposed to the typical bakery, Sweet Revenge has a very sophisticated feel. Everything from the setting to the cupcakes themselves is aimed at adults, not kids. The last time I was there, three couples were on dates. What kind of atmosphere were you trying to cultivate, and what kinds of customers are you trying to attract?

I offer patrons a world-bistro vibe and hope to attract patrons who are diverse with an appreciation for foreign places and people from all cultures.

You have many regulars who stop by either for their morning coffee or on evenings/weekends. Why do you think you’ve cultivated so many regular customers? Is your goal to have Sweet Revenge be a neighborhood hangout?

I think we've had the good fortune to develop regular customers because we get to know many patrons by name and what they order (not to mention they love what they eat & drink at Sweet Revenge). I'd love to be the neighborhood hangout spot where everyone knows your name (thank you Cheers for that inspiration!)

What are the best and worst aspects of running Sweet Revenge? What do you wish you’d known before you started the bakery?

The best part of Sweet Revenge is that I get to make people happy all day long. It’s incredibly rewarding to see patrons enjoying themselves at mine. The hardest part of running the business is balancing strategic vs operational demands -- there's just not enough hours in the day to get it all done. I wish I would've known how physically demanding it is to work 7 days a week on your feet for 15 hours a day! Or maybe it’s for the better that I didn't have a clue… :)

What’s next for Sweet Revenge?

Next up for Sweet Revenge: continue to work on marketing opportunities to drive greater awareness and build the business.

Why do you think cupcakes are so popular lately?

As a subject matter, cupcakes are routinely covered by national media, and this drives top-of-mind awareness and consumer demand. People enjoy indulging. It’s an inexpensive treat that doesn't have to be shared.

And now for some personal questions…

How often do you eat cupcakes?

I eat cupcakes every other day.

What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?

They don't have to be shared!

What's your favorite type of cupcake?

One that is moist with a good balance between the frosting and the cake. I'm a peanut butter junkie so my fave flave is the Sweet Revenge. It’s so delicious!

Sweet Revenge's Sweet Revenge (peanut butter/chocolate) cupcake
Sweet Revenge's Sweet Revenge cupcake

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

I'm a fan of carbs so they're all good :)

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

Yes - take-away packaging. I'd love to see paper-based packaging that allowed cupcakes to be good travelers.

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

I baked my cupcakes until I started construction on Sweet Revenge. I am eternally thankful to my fabulous bakers Jessica, Liti and our newest team-mate Jonathan who whip up all the deliciousness at Sweet Revenge.

What's your first cupcake-related memory?

I don't really have one that's nostalgia-oriented. I'd say my first thoughts on cupcakes was related to hatching the plan back in 2005...

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

Every day is a fun day with my cupcakes!

Do you have anything else to add?

I think everyone deserves their own bite of Sweet Revenge. Please eat, drink & be merry at mine! Cheers! Marlo

Previous Sweet Revenge coverage:

My first frosting shot

Visit to Sweet Revenge, 62 Carmine, on their third day

Sweet Revenge cupcakes

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