Interview: Cat Beurnier of Sugar Daze Cupcakes

Name: Cat Beurnier
Age: 41
Location: Paris, France

Occupation: Founder, Head Baker and Chief Cupcake Decorator of Sugar Daze


You recently changed the name of your company from Little Miss Cupcakes Paris to Sugar Daze Cupcakes. Why?

I founded my company as Little Miss Cupcake in 2008 but I didn't trademark the name. At the time, trademarking represented a large expense for me, a stay-at-home mom who was translating a lifelong hobby into a small business. I didn't know my business was going to take off like it did. In my first year, there were only a handful of us cupcake bakers on the scene and so we received a lot of press. Since I was starting to become known, I never thought someone would come along and use a similar name -- big mistake!

In early 2010, I discovered a cupcakery was opening, practically in my backyard, with an almost identical name, and they had filed the trademark. I tried to amicably persuade the owner to consider a name change before her opening but she fought back with a lawyer. Unfortunately in France, it is first to file the trademark and not first to use a name who has all the rights and my petition to block her trademark failed.

I considered further legal proceedings -- my lawyers were convinced I'd win the court battle, but to be frank, I wasn't prepared to invest a year of my life dealing with the stress and anxiety of such a negative situation. Over a very short period of time though, I started to see the damage that was being done to my reputation -- that is, many consumers visited this cupcakery thinking it was mine. They didn't like what they were seeing and tasting and lashed out at me via emails, phone calls and my blog. It was a horrible situation to be in -- my customers are my No. 1 priority and knowing there were so many people out there who had been disappointed when it wasn't even my cupcakes they were eating (!) was too much for me to handle.

I believed the only way out was to change my name. It's almost a year later and there's still a lot of confusion in the marketplace. It was a very painful experience; I've since learned from a number of different sources that the use of an almost identical name by this other cupcakery was entirely intentional. While the laws are different in France versus the U.S., if any good can come of this, I urge your readers who are business owners not to make the same mistake I did and take the necessary steps to protect their identities and the reputations.

Paris Inspired Cupcakes

You are originally from NYC and now live and work in Paris. How is baking cupcakes and running a business different in France than it is in the USA?

I'm not sure that my day-to-day is that different from any other cupcake baker in the U.S. or other parts of the world, except that I do a lot of my correspondence in French! However, while cupcakes are fairly commonplace in the U.S., they are still a novelty and very hot right now in France. I've gotten to work on some pretty amazing projects that I'm not sure I would have if I were doing this in the U.S. My cupcakes and I have appeared on TV and in most of the mainstream magazines, I've run a pop-up store in one of the famous Parisian department stores, I've had inquiries about franchising from as far away as Asia and I've gotten to work with some of the biggest brands in the world. Sometimes I can't believe that I have only been at this for two and a half years. It's been a fantastic ride so far!

Rendez-vous at Printemps Nation

How do Parisians respond to cupcakes? Is there a pastry learning curve?

The cupcake market is fairly new and specialized here so yes, there's a bit of education to be done. Many of my customers have never eaten a cupcake before and so introducing them to one of our most traditional desserts has been a lot of fun. Cupcakes tend to be glamorized here as the main reference point for most French people is Carrie Bradshaw eating a Magnolia Bakery cupcake in an episode of Sex and the City. You know how the macaron has been the "in" pastry recently in the U.S.? Well, that's what we've been experiencing here with the cupcake for the past two years!

Can you tell us a bit about your future plans for Sugar Daze Cupcakes?

That's definitely the million dollar question! I intentionally started out small as a home-based business since I have two young kids. Now reached a point where I absolutely cannot keep up with demand and I hate disappointing customers. I have tons of ideas about where I'd like to take the business but there are just not enough hours in the day. There is a constant juggling act between being there for my family and fueling my passion for creating beautiful and delicious cupcakes. As my business is custom-order only right now and I work out of a rented kitchen, my goal for the coming year is to install my own premises somewhere and potentially open a retail space.

old school - empire state of mind

Where do you do your baking?

I'm currently in a shared professional space that is owned by a catering company. Since it's only available to me "after-hours," I do most of my baking in the wee hours of the morning. I often feel like the cupcake equivalent of the Dunkin' Donuts "time to make the donuts" baker!

Where do you sell your cupcakes?

The majority of my business is done via Internet directly with the companies or individuals ordering from me. I have done a number of different pop-up stores around Paris or limited time engagements in boutiques and am always looking for opportunities like that as it gives me the chance to get out there and meet more of the cupcake-buying public.

Logo Cupcakes

How often do you eat cupcakes?

My hips would tell you "too frequently!" Though I have to admit that at this point, I could bake all my cupcakes blindfolded so I don't feel the need to taste cake from every batch I make. On the other hand, I ALWAYS taste the frosting to make sure it has just the right balance of sugar and butter.

What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?

I like the impression of unwrapping the perfect palm-sized gift when you peel back a cupcake wrapper. I like how every bite of a cupcake offers just the right balance of cake and frosting. I like how there are infinite flavor combinations and limitless design possibilities; you can dress a cupcake up or down. I like how a cupcake is just the right size portion for dessert, an afternoon snack, before bed, and if you live in my house, an extra-special breakfast. I like how cupcakes bring people together. I like how cupcakes make people smile.

Cupcakes for La Halle

What's your favorite type of cupcake?

That's a tough one! I definitely have a soft spot for cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, so carrot cake and red velvet top my list. One of the best things about my job is inventing new cupcake flavors and so two of my recent creations that I'm really into are my "Cookie Monster," a speculoos-spiced cupcake with a speculoos cream center (which has the look and consistency of peanut butter, but a cinnamon flavor) and Oreo buttercream with a mini Oreo and speculoos biscuit on top; and my "Dancing Queen," a white chocolate-pistachio-cardamom cupcake with rose buttercream -- to die for!

See That Girl...Dancing Queen

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

I've been in France for eight years now and cupcakes are very very different from the other baked goods here. The French don't really use buttercreams in their baked goods opting instead for whipped cream or creme patissiere, and most are made with flaky puffed pastry, pie crust or more dense/less moist cake. Even those bakeries that offer cupcakes do a Frenchified version with a drier, heavy cake like our pound cake. While many French people complain that cupcakes can be sickeningly sweet, many of their baked goods are loaded with sugar.

Though I'd say most French baked goods are more finessed with a refined flavor profile whereas cupcakes have a much more home-style feel. For me, cupcakes tend to be lighter, moister and satisfying in a different way. They don't sit in your stomach like a rich, buttery pain au chocolat after you've eaten them and they are not so delicate that you are afraid to bite into them like a millefeuille or tuile. I think they are probably more rugged as well; you can enjoy a cupcake a day or two after it's been baked whereas most macarons, croissant, etc. are best eaten as soon as possible, and in many cases, fresh out of the oven. Lastly, so many French pastries border on being artistic sculptures where you don't even know which side is up or how to dismantle them to eat them. A cupcake is a humble, simple dessert that's just waiting for you to sink your teeth into it.

I Will Not Eat Things for Money

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

I get so many requests to ship cupcakes outside of Paris to other parts of France and all over the world. Given that I think cupcakes really taste their best the day they are baked (and because they don't hold up too well in transport), I don't currently ship. I wish there was an easier way to spread the cupcake love but since I don't use any preservatives in my cupcakes, the longest I recommend conserving them is 72 hours, which is barely enough time for them to cross the Atlantic. I guess a cupcake teleporter would be pretty cool! Plus I'd be able to order in cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens, my fave NYC cupcakery, whenever the mood struck!

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

I design, bake, frost and decorate all of the cupcakes myself. I also handcraft all of my own decorations with fondant or gumpaste, which is pretty unusual here in France. As the sole employee of Sugar Daze, it also means that I do everything from admin and accounting to PR, marketing and purchasing. It's a lot more of a time investment than any job I have ever had but also the best job I've ever had!

Penguin & Puffles!

What's your first cupcake-related memory?

My friend Katharine's sixth birthday party. Her mom served vanilla cupcakes and pink lemonade. Since my mom was a former model and always careful about what she ate, we rarely had sugared cereal, soda, candy, etc. at home. I remember stuffing myself with cupcakes and downing seven or eight glasses of lemonade at the party! Though I was quite sick afterward, cupcakes and pink lemonade remain high on my list of favorite foods.

I Want (Cotton) Candy

Thanks, Cat! Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

At least once a week, I am contacted by someone who wants to know how I started my business. For me it started with a passion for baking, an inquisitive nature to try out new things in the kitchen, a belief in the products I make, and I am not going to lie -- the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I don't have a huge amount of formal training in cake baking or decorating. But I had a dream and the will to make it happen. I'm a big believer in making your own destiny and I don't think you're ever too old to reinvent yourself. So for those of you who want to start your own business, who dream of being a cupcake baker or a doctor, who want to write a book, whatever...I say get out there and make it happen!

Thank you Cupcakes Take the Cake for this opportunity!

Joyeux Anniversaire!