Trial and Error was my training and here's how I got there.
Bit by the acting bug during my teenage years, I have spent a good portion of my life trying to generate a way to become financially independent based around this type of creativity. Over the years, I have been very fortunate to include public speaking as a staple in my tool chest along with national and regional tid bits acting in commercials and film. For two and a half years I hosted the Award winning television show "Today's Builder" which aired throughout the country.
On another creative level, I could spend hours in Lowes with a Pumpkin Spice Latte dreaming of things to build and then come home and transform my living room on shoe string budget. My shoe string budget usually involves the term, "paint it black and distress it." Lol. Although I love this creative diversity, I don't think either are going to make me financially independent. Aside from acting my true creative love is entertaining with food. I get excited creating new experiences for loved ones and friends with food and creating a certain ambiance that moves them. I long to see that "Wow" on their faces when they come through the door.
How did I get into cupcakes?
In 2004 I was basically a homemaker and loved it, but I have to have several things going to keep me entertained. With a love for animals, I started my own business which was an organic pet bakery. Oh I made treats yummy enough for you and I to enjoy with our furball children, including doggie birthday cakes.
Things rapidly changed in my life. So, the business ended and I relocated back to my hometown that I'd been away from for 12 years now bringing with me 32 goats and 5 cats. Ugh! No income. What was I going to do. I started another biz...a concierge. Better yet, a "glorified go-for". For 2 years I became a professional "networker" and got so frustrated trying to explain the laundry list of services I offered. If only I could develop a biz where the product spoke for itself...although I love to talk and share stories...I was tired of talking. I wanted the product to speak for itself!! I wanted it to work for me, not vice versa!
My inspiration came from an evening at a networking event in Wilmington. It was a grand opening for a local busines and a local cupcakery was providing their lovely treats for dessert. I learned these young ladies had bought a bakery straight out of college that was already in place and started their cupcakery. Simple. Although I loved their cuppies, I knew I could create something different but still wonderful! So, after reading "The Purple Cow" by Seth Godin, I knew my purple cow was going to be an unheard of cupcake. I knew it had to be so different and the name of the biz had to say enough to make folks want to know more. One that makes them say, "that's crazy, but I want to try it!" One that makes people want to market my product for me. It did however, need to be something people had to have.
With many nights of debating the business change, in November of 2008, I created The Peppered Cupcake. I'd love to tell you that I spent weeks trying to come up with a name edgy enough to get attention, but I didn't. Two days maybe and I had the website up within a matter of days. My research of cupcakes turned up two very important things I was repeatedly reading about. These were two very negative reviews and I read it over and over...so I knew what had to be done..a way around both. Cakes were too dry and too sweet. I already knew I wanted to create an adult cupcake, so the absense of all that sugar would be perfect. Now, desperate to create combinations unique and still mouth watering, the possibilities were endless. With no money to open a store front and certainly couldn't draw up a business plan with no real experience in the biz, I had to create a business using the tools I already had. I had to use the only advertising I knew...me! I wanted to prove to myself that I could market my business without paying for advertising and with the exception of my website, to this day it is still just word of mouth with the help of God, family and friends, TripAdvisor, Yelp and Facebook.
For many years now I have had a love and passion for cooking and as mentioned earlier, entertaining. Let me make one thing clear first...my first passion is food and the fact that it is a true art to create something that can make your tastebuds say, 'oh my goodness." That's what I long to create. With this said, I knew I had to get the product out there and I knew I wasn't going to be able to drive all over creation to introduce my product right away. The internet was my quickest and most cost effective solution. I already had experience building websites from the past 10 years with my acting, pet bakery and concierge site. I literally had my site up and running in 2 days. Took me a few days to get pictures of the cupcakes but all done by me as well. The website allowed customers to see the cupcakes and fill out a form where their treats could be delivered within a 90 mile radius of my location. Yikes...hey, I had to broaden my territory. My hometown is too small. Folks get a personal delivery with a real smile and gratefulness!
Although a store front was my ultimate wish, the dream started in my kitchen at home. My first order came in December of 2008, one month later, from a lady in Nashville, TN. Delivery was for a friend of hers in Greenville, NC that had just had a miscarriage. I was shocked because I certainly didn't expect anything but birthdays and holidays for reasons to order. Wow! The lady was tickled on the arrival of the cakes. Made me feel like I was the reason for her smile this day.
The business idea took off and soon I was getting into restaurants and coffee shops. Kathy and Christi at Pine Valley Market were awesome in letting me wiggle my cupcakes into their awesome gourmet market on College Street. In November of 2009 I met some wonderful people, David and Debbie Shingleton and their beautiful family, that had a catering business with a beautiful kitchen. They opened their kitchen to me and I was so grateful for their generosity. It was here that I was able to really get things done more efficiently. Having my own place would be best, but remember we have to"start" somewhere. This was home for The Peppered Cupcake till December 2012 and I was tickled to have it!
On December 19, 2012, I was fortunate to open my first storefront. A house, which belonged to my fiance and his family, was perfect. Since I always wanted to entertain out of my home, this piece of property allowed me to create that warm and inviting atmosphere that makes you feel like you've just found a jewel. Again, word of mouth. You cannot buy it. We also wanted folks to feel like they had a secret "find" that only they knew about. Our guest book has filled up with folks from all over. We have had people finding us from other cities and make a point to stop by to see us as they came through our quiet little town. The Peppered Cupcake started to become exactly what I planned, a destination!
The day came of my long awaited dream of opening the cupcakery in Wilmington. We decided after the holidays in 2013 that we would seek out our new home for TPC. We also found out after 1 1/2 yrs of trying that we were finally pregnant my other long awaited dream! With such great news and plans we were fortunate enough to find a great location in the heart of downtown on Front Street so quickly. Elated doesn't even describe it. I lied awake many a night decorating and redesigning our new cupcakery in my head and also planning for our new arrival.
Very challenging it was going to be pregnant and getting a new store open in Wilmington, but we succeeded. Not easy. Miss AlyviaJo Scout Foster was born September 5, 2014 and we were here right to the day she was born and returned just one week later with our little cupcake. Here with us everyday, she is amazing and brings me more joy than I could have ever imagined. She is definitley a cupcake maker in training everyday. Yes, she loves to be a taste tester if Mommy will allow! She loves speaking and waving to everyone as they come through our doors here and loves the attention!
Fast forward to 2017 and we finally open a 2nd location in Wilmington at Racine Commons. With many folks not making it the downtown area often, we hope to introduce ourselves to more folks that live in Wilmington. We get a lot of travelers coming through downtown and many regular Wilmington folks, so now we are making it more convenient for you to stop in more often for yummy cupcakes while enjoying more space and free WiFi.
Are cupcakes a trend or fad and how do we keep the concept alive?
Absolutely not! Some folks get caught up in the dollar sign stage and think of mass producing with pre-made mixes and frostings and it does work sometimes when folks are looking for just a cupcake. Understand we are trying to lure in "foodies" that are already on the hunt for something unique. For the rest of the cupcake fans, we want to take them to another level of cupcake.
As far as how we keep the cupcake idea fresh and alive, we keep thinking outside of the box with unique flavor ideas and keeping it fresh. That's the key. Fresh ingredients. We bake in small batches and from scratch daily. We make our own preserves and fruit compotes. We "finish" your cupcake as you order which is rare. By adding fresh berries, nuts, all house-made ganache, caramel, whipped cream as you order, it allows us to add another whole dimension to our cupcakes. Fresh! Your fruit, nuts and cream aren't getting tired, stale and soggy. Not uncommon to hear us say, "let me rewhip the cream" because during the day fresh cream does flop and we want each cake to not only taste fresh, but look great too! So, we make take a few more moments to "ready" your cupcakes but just know you are getting a box especially prepared for you.
Where do your ideas come from?
I think my biggest advantage goes to never really walking into a cupcake shop prior to. Therefore, I wasn't boxed into what a cupcake flavor should be or look like. We are not pastry chefs which is why we don't customize. NO food colorings or Happy Birthday piping here. Just gourmet flavors and you get them decorated one way.
Flavors come about many ways. Some from favorite desserts transformed into a cupcake form and others are inspired from magazines or just because we thought some strange combination would work.
How does one survive in a potentially over saturated market just selling "cupcakes?"
Simple. Keeping our cupcake concept "simple" was key to maintain a growing future. We offer gourmet cupcakes only. We do not modify or customize any of our cakes and we don't venture into any other aspects of baking. This allows us to focus on our mission. Creating an ever changing cupcake for you.
I hope we are a cupcakery never seen before, tastes that is. A new experience! I love to hear when folks say, "I've never had a cupcake like that!" Music to my ears.
We hope we are one of your destinations when you come to Wilmington. It is such a charming, quaint and intimate place. It has old and new and that's what I love!
Come see us folks!