Name: Cat Beurnier
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.
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!
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?
Where do you do your baking?
Where do you sell your cupcakes?
What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?
What's your favorite type of cupcake?
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.
Is there any innovation you'd like to see made to the cupcake that would improve it for you?
Do you bake your own cupcakes? Or (even better) have someone who bakes them for you?
What's your first cupcake-related memory?
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!