Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Behind the scenes at Sprinkles

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I was on a conference call today, explaining to a client what drives word-of-mouth. One of the keys to creating buzz about a brand is offering something worth talking about. If you give shoppers a sneak peek at something new or exclusive access, they can't help but want to talk about it. Think about it: no one wants to be the fifth person to recommend a cute cupcake bakery to our friends ... If we can't be one of the first, we probably won't make a point of bringing it up in conversation.

Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills cupcake bakery that arguably began the cupcake craze, opened its Chicago location in the Gold Coast last year. While it's as delicious as ever, it's no longer new. So it was a stroke of genius for the bakery to host an in-kitchen cupcake and Champagne reception for local mom bloggers. We headed back, behind the counter and through the kitchen doors to an immaculate work space where dozens upon dozens of cupcakes are mixed, baked and frosted.

Our hosts were the Sprinkles founders Charles and Candace Nelson (you may recognize her from the Food Network show Cupcake Wars). My co-worker Laura and I got to taste their cupcakes, try our hand at frosting one ourselves and talk to Candace about her business, her life and her inspiration. It turns out the couple were victims of the early 2000s dot-com bubble. She got laid off, went to pastry school and decided they should open a bakery. Candace lives in LA, is mom to a 4 year old and an 8 month old, and somehow balances parenting with a TV show and her growing cupcake empire.

Having turned out so many no-so-pretty cupcakes for A's birthday party last weekend, I asked how they managed to make all of the cupcakes exactly the same size. She said they use an instrument that's basically the size of an ice cream scoop, but that a city's heat and humidity affect how much batter they need and how long it needs to be baked. "We're always making adjustments."

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I went home with a small box of cupcakes and shared them with my favorite foodie. "Don't take this the wrong way," Josh said, "but these are really good. I like them better than your cupcakes."

Sprinkles cupcakes retail for $3.50 each, which is pricey. But the ingredients are top-notch and the taste is incredible. If I had to pick my favorites, I'd say the Key Lime, the Salty Caramel, and the Vanilla.