Cupcake interview with Cake and Art CEO Colleen Perry

Los Angeles's Cake and Art

Name: Colleen Perry
Age: 42
Location: 8709 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood CA 90069
Occupation: CEO, Cake and Art, and psychotherapist

Cake and Art opened in December 2006. Where did you get the idea and what inspired you? What kind of prior baking experience did you have?

Actually, Cake and Art opened in 1976 turning out custom cakes and cake sculptures. It was the first cake store of its kind. Since then the only way to have one of our custom cakes was to order one. That all changed on Halloween 2006 when we opened our doors to the public for retail sales and added cupcakes to our repertoire. The idea to open the retail side of the business came to me in spring of 2006. I was looking for LA's best cupcake as an alternative to the traditional birthday cake for a friend of mine. I went everywhere, and tried everyone's cupcakes...and I couldn't find one that "got it" just right. Although they all had a fine product, NONE of them were filled with anything interesting. The closest to my ideal that I could find was a cupcake filled with a small amount of the same frosting that was used on top. I thought to myself "I can do better than that!"

And so I set off to find myself a partner. Keep in mind that I also have a full psychotherapy practice, so I needed to find a space that was already set up to do the kind of baking I needed done. Many years ago, I had worked at Cake and Art decorating cakes for the original owner. I called the store (with great trepidation) and asked the current owner (who thankfully remembered me) and asked him what he thought of changing his bakery and adding cupcakes! I knew I was embarking on a HUGE undertaking, but I was on fire, and wasn't going to take NO for an answer. Tom and I met several times over the subsequent months and decided to form a corporation, and open up the front of Cake and Art for retail business. EVERYTHING needed to be overhauled and re-decorated, and we were finally ready to open our doors to the public on Halloween. All my friends and family thought I was a little crazy, but I march to my own drummer anyway! I had very little to no previous baking experience, just cake decorating and design. But I had a drive and I knew the details (like baking!) would all fall into place.

Why the name “Cake and Art?” What do you see as artistic about cupcakes?

The name "Cake and Art" is very representative of what we do...edible art. Glenn Von Kickle began Cake and Art at a time when no one had ever seen a cake sculpted into a life-size carousel (Casey Kasem's birthday cake), or someone's portrait painted with life-like precision on top of a cake, so the "Art" was and still is integral to what we do. We are like no one else out there making cupcakes in that we are always looking for the next creative idea. We can put your picture on top of a cupcake, or your child, dog, favorite hobby, company logo, etc. People who come to us for cupcakes are limited only by their own imaginations. We even do erotic cupcakes, cakes and chocolates!

Is the presentation and visual element of a cupcake as important as its taste?

You bet it is! That's one of the things that sets Cake and Art cupcakes apart. When you look at our display case, it's like being a child again... all the wonderful colors and designs. We are definitely not boring! Psychologically, it's all in the presentation. That's where taste and desire begin.

You say on your site that “you have NEVER had a cupcake THIS darn good!” What’s special about your cupcakes? What kinds of innovations have you made on
the form?

First of all, our cupcakes are much larger than anyone else's. How do I know this? I was collecting all of my competitors’ packaging to figure out the dimensions that I would need to package our cupcakes, and our cupcakes didn't fit into any of their boxes! We didn't start out with that as a goal, but by the time we filled them and frosted them to my standards, they were far larger than average! In addition we had to find a way to "core" the cupcakes to get the fillings in. But what really sets us apart is our "made from scratch" fillings and frostings.

You offer 15 varieties of cupcakes, include s’more, vanilla toffee crunch, chocolate caramel turtle, chocolate raspberry and Kody’s black and white (marble cake), and each are filled with a different flavor of cream. Where did you come up with the ideas for these cupcakes and are there any other flavor innovations in the works?

I am the one who decides upon the flavors, fillings and frostings. So all of the original cupcakes (about 11) came from my personal tastes. Since then, we have encouraged our employees to be as creative as possible and this has resulted in the fabulous S'more cupcake and Kody's black and white. The S'more is a chocolate cupcake filled with marshmallow cream, then it's topped with a homemade graham cookie (made with sugar, butter and graham crumbs) then that is topped with a ring of rich chocolate ganache, filled with more marshmallow cream which is then flame-torched to look like toasted marshmallow, and the whole shebang is topped with a mini Hershey bar! Our strawberry shortcake cupcake is filled with a fresh strawberry puree; our peanut butter cup cupcake is filled a rich peanut butter filling (think Reese's peanut butter cup) and our Kody's black and white is filled with a light pastry cream (think Hostess cupcake). That's just to name a few!

You offer customizable cupcakes with logos, artwork, designs, etc. What’s the most interesting set of cupcakes you’ve been commissioned to make? How far in advance should someone contact you about custom cupcakes?

Our most interesting and challenging order was the 600 cupcakes for the APLA Academy Awards party at the Abbey this year. We put each of the Best Picture nominees on hundreds of cupcakes along with the corporate sponsor's logos. Then we outlined each image in colored edible gels and gold and silver leaf. They were truly beautiful to behold!

You are located in Los Angeles, where numerous bakeries have opened recently. Why do you think cupcakes have become so popular? How do cupcakes fit into the health-conscious culture of southern California?

I think cupcakes have become so popular because they are an easy treat to give yourself as opposed to picking up an entire cake for the evening! Also, you can choose cupcakes that are as simple as your neighborhood bake sale items, or as gourmet as Cake and Art cupcakes. I believe people like to have "choice" and cupcakes meet that need. What I've noticed in Southern California is that we thrive on "opposites.” For instance, when the no-carb Atkin's diet was at its zenith, so were sales of Krispy Kreme doughnuts! Proving that for every "action" there is an equal and opposite "reaction.” Maybe it's our natural way of finding "balance.”

You also offer a few other items besides cupcakes, including brownies, chocolate chip cookies, double dipped chocolate Oreos, gingerbread people, and round cakes. Are cupcakes far and away the most popular item you sell? Do you think people approach the choosing and eating of cupcakes differently than they do the other items?

Next to our custom cakes, cupcakes are by far the most popular item we sell. Although our chocolate dipped items are outrageously good, there is a visual appeal to seeing 12 different types of cupcakes on display. It's almost mesmerizing! There are several different ways to eat cupcakes...and I think cupcake lovers all have their own "ritual" around them. For instance, I need to check quality control everyday (yes, poor me!) so I like to start by peeling back the paper and cutting the cupcake in half. I do this with several types so that I get a wide variety with committing to more cupcake than I need! Or than my body needs! I eat my cupcakes on a plate with a fork and a large glass of cold milk. That's just my way. Then there's the eat with abandon method wherein the paper is not peeled away and the cupcake is bitten into at random. These are the devil-may-care type of people! I admire them!

You’ve catered several local events, including a recent AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) event featuring Jennifer Love Hewitt. What do you like best about large-scale events of this type?

The thing I like most about large-scale events is a) the challenge of pulling it off and b) the feedback we get after such a large event. Many people are exposed to our product and it's wonderful to hear their reactions to our unique cupcakes!

What would your dream catering gig be? Do you prefer to be given instructions as to how to decorate the cupcakes or to have free reign?

My dream catering gig was to be featured at an Academy Awards party, but now I'd like to do big movie premieres. I think that would be wonderfully fun and creative. I don't mind being given instructions and working within the client's parameters, and I also like having free reign. Either one works for me, because even when a client has an idea of what they need, we almost always can add our "touch" and make it better for them. That's why we are trusted by so many celebrities and VIPs. They know without a doubt we will make them look great!

Your website mentions a Cupcakes for a Cure project, featuring a “hunky boy and cupcakes” calendar as well as photos, posters, postcards and bracelets, with proceeds going to cancer and AIDS charities. What’s the status of this project? Do you feel that Cake and Art has a social mission?

We are in production at the moment and are still shooting the calendar. I definitely see Cake and Art as having a social mission. I believe our company must stand for our values as owners. In our vision statement it says ".....All Cake and Art employees are fulfilled, financially successful, and socially responsible." I've always been a believer on giving back to the community and acting locally to engage global change.

Do you have any other celebrity customers?

I don't know where to begin. Let's start with the celebrities we've made cupcakes for this month....Cate Blanchett, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Steven Spielberg, and Johnny Knoxville. We've made cakes for Jessica Alba, Macy Gray, Kathy Hilton, Will Ferrell, Janice Dickinson, Nick Lachey and Patricia Kennedy also within the last month.

You also sell pupcakes, for dogs. How popular are these? Do you let dogs eat them in the store?

Pupcakes are gaining a following now that our clients know we carry them. They are all organic and delicious! Personally taste-tested by my dog, Murray, and he never lies! Sadly, due to pesky health codes, doggies have to eat their treats outside.

And now for some personal questions:

How often do you eat cupcakes?

EVERYDAY!! Whether I need one or not!

What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?

The variety of flavors and consistencies. Also the inspiration on how to make our cupcakes better. I eat my competitors' cupcakes too.

What's your favorite type of cupcake?

The Coconut Cream, and our S'mores cupcake. With chocolate covered strawberry and red velvet surprise coming in close seconds! The Red Velvet Surprise, however, is our best seller. We put mini-chocolate chips inside the cream cheese filling, then we top the moist red velvet cake with more cream cheese⎯Wow!

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

The only innovation I wanted to see was fillings in cupcakes, so I opened our bake shop in order to manifest my desire. The next thing I'd like to see is someone inventing a way to ship these lovelies unharmed.

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

I have bakers that come in at 5 a.m. to do the baking for me. I like the decorating, innovating, and eating part.

What's your first cupcake-related memory?

My mother is a great baker, so cupcakes for special events, and cakes for our nightly dessert have been a part of my life since childhood. I remember in third grade a classmate's mother brought in Easter egg shaped cupcakes for the entire class. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world that day!


Anonymous said…
Hey Rachel, the interview was great to read. I came to know so much about cupcakes. Though I like baking and inventing different cakes for birthdays, cupcakes have always tickled my fancy.Just like Colleen, I love decorating and designing cupcakes.No wonder they have so many celebrity customers. Their website is just awesome!