Q&A: Sprinkles Cupcakes Founder Candace Nelson Whips Up First Vegas Bakery At The LINQ
Fresh out of the oven, Sprinkles Cupcakes has officially arrived in Las Vegas. The cult favorite cupcake brand boasts a prime corner spot in the middle of The LINQ shopping and dining district, and already had fans lined up around the corner the morning of its March 21 opening.
What started as a small cupcakes-only bake shop (the first of its kind) in Beverly Hills has mushroomed into a cupcake empire, with 15 stores and mentions in everything from “Vanity Fair” to “Entourage” and has plenty of famous fans. (When “it girl” and self-professed baking queen Blake Lively worked with Nelson to create the S’more flavor for charity, it quickly raised $35,000 for Oxfam.)
Bubbly and all-American, the brand’s founder Candace Nelson was all smiles at the March 20 VIP event, taking pictures with eager fans and chatting with media. The store’s cheery staff was dishing out plenty of cupcake and ice cream samples, and passing their famous cookies around to champagne-drinking guests.
Despite all her success, including judging Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” Nelson isn’t slowing down. Her loyal following has extended from Hollywood to half way around the globe. She recently signed a deal with M.H. Alshaya to open 34 Sprinkles locations around the Middle East. She also took a moment to chat about everything from her own favorite flavors to her recipe for success and how many cupcakes she eats a week.
Location, location, location
You opened the very first Sprinkles in Beverly Hills in 2005 and the brand now has locations all over. Why has it taken so long to get to Vegas?
It’s been all about finding that right location. [My husband] Charles and I have done scouting here before. We have walked every place you can imagine, but nothing felt quite right. We are at The Grove in LA with [LINQ developers] Caruso Affiliated in Los Angeles and our store does amazing there. When this opportunity came about we jumped at it. It’s an open air concept, which I have always hoped for. We loved that part of it and we love what Rick Caruso does with these outdoor shopping centers. We think The High Roller is going to be an amazing attraction.
Is it one of your bigger stores?
This is a flagship in the sense that all our offerings are under one roof. The ATM, the cupcakes, the ice cream, everything is in one place, like a dessert emporium. We have never had this much outdoor seating either. In Vegas, you have to do things big—our dot decorations are literally exploding all over the front. Our stores are usually understated and this design is crazy for us. I love how it turned out, it’s so fun!
We have longer hours here than anywhere else, a bigger store and it’s our brightest. I feel like it’s Sprinkles within the Las Vegas spirit. We also have T-shirts and cupcake mixes merchandise, so you can go home and make cupcakes with your kids. We have really beautiful gift boxes and you can take pints of ice cream home—we have bags that will keep it cold.
Are you doing exclusive flavors or decorations styles for this location, such as a “Vegas cupcake”?
What we like to do is launch that later with a celebrity or with a charity. But we do have some fun, Vegas-specific decorations like toppers with a cactus, “girl’s night out” style with the red heels and tiaras, and there is tons of stuff to do with weddings.
Are you sticking to the same days of the week and flavor rotation as in all your other stores?
It is, so if you grab a flavor card in Beverly Hills, it will be the same for here. In terms of ordering ahead of time, you can do that with any of the flavors we are baking that day. You can pick them up at the store or we can even do curbside delivery at the LINQ valet so you don’t have to get out of your car.
Do you think you will consider opening more stores in Vegas?
Oh yes, we would definitely be open to that, but one thing at a time!
Rise of an empire
Going back to your history and background: you came from the corporate world, but always loved baking. Now, you’ve turned that into an empire.
It does blow my mind. The reason I didn’t go into baking in the first place is because I thought I could never make a successful living at it. After college I went to work for a dot com then the bottom fell out of that world so I was literally without a job. It was obviously a challenging time but an opportunity to reinvent myself. I went to pastry school and got bit by the bug. I gave myself a year to figure it out and I said ‘I will not be able to live with myself if I don’t try.’
And not only are you a success, you were the very first to do a cupcakes-only bakery. You reinvented the whole scene and kicked off a huge trend.
I started out making special occasion cakes, because I really wanted to do something artful. But people don’t order those that much, and I wanted to make something high quality people could eat every day. Cupcakes were what you got at the supermarket with bad frosting and waxy sprinkles. So I thought we could mesh the two ideas, and I took the best ingredients I use in my cakes and the artful design and made it something your kids could eat every day after school.
Looking back, I can’t believe there was ever a time when cupcakes were unpopular.
When we were first opening, people said it would never work, and landlords wouldn’t rent to us. When something is a success now, people say “of course” but back then people were laughing at us.
Do you come up with all the flavors and do you offer anything to more health-conscious customers?
Yes I develop all the recipes. But I’m open to suggestions. When I first opened the cupcake store, I just did creative flavors I myself wanted to eat. Then some people couldn’t eat our cupcakes because they were vegan or gluten-free. I set about fixing that and was totally out of my comfort zone, but I developed those two recipes. We offer those in red velvet every day.
Getting the scoop
What do you think makes your ice cream taste different than even the best out there?
Before I started the ice cream, I was like “what happened to American ice cream?” It was all about frozen yogurt and gelato. But I love a scoop of good old rich chewy American ice cream. We use organic cream and dairy, we bake all our own chocolate chips, and we slow churn it to make it a really special product. We brought the ice cream and cookies on two years ago.
How much of your stuff a week do you eat?
It goes in waves. When I’m in the store, doing recipe development or doing the show, I eat it. But if not then maybe 2 or 3 a week, so I’ll go to the store with my kids. I’m all about the ice cream right now!
What are you working on next as far as recipes?
A peach one for the Atlanta store. I’m trying to work on a pineapple upside down flavor cupcake—it’s one of our number one requested flavors.
What are your favorite flavors of your products?
Cupcake is the chocolate marshmallow and also the banana. We’re about to start the lemon meringue which is a seasonal flavor I love. For ice cream, I think the rocky road and for cookies, the salted oatmeal corn flake.
That cookie sounds so indulgent!
It has literally a cult following in LA. It has this great nutty texture and the chunks of salt on top, so you get the sweet and savory.