Monday, November 1, 2010

Meet the Buttercream Cupcake Lady

A few months back, your Chocolate Priestess saw an article about a woman who created a company that sales cupcakes out of a truck and travels around her city, Philadelphia, selling freshly made cupcakes to people in different locations.  I found the woman behind Buttercream, the Buttercream Cupcake Lady herself, Kate Carrara, and she gladly agreed to do an email interview with me.  This is our interview.  As always my words are in regular font while the replies are in italics. 

Please do leave comments and let her know that you read.

I've looked through your website for Buttercream Cupcake Lady, and I note that you made this career move from law to cupcakes fairly recently.  Did the state of the economy affect your decision to make this career change?

Not in the way most people would think. My family is in law and I had a secure job with them until I decided to stop practicing in 2006. There were so many reasons I stopped, but what it came down to was the fact that I wasn't happy. I cannot blame that all on the job either, but rather how I fit with being a lawyer. Or, more specifically, found it impossible to fit in as an attorney. I have always been creative and free spirited, so I had to give up much of what made me unique to practice law. It was lots of navy suits and serious haircuts, and I'm more of a sparkle girl in glitter shoes.

The economy did factor into my decision to open a food truck rather than a traditional storefront. I felt a lower price point and overhead was a necessity in this economy. 

Compared to being a lawyer, what does this cupcake career offer you that law didn't?

I have more personal freedom now, I can dress how I like, I set my hours. I have a staff of people who work with me and believe in what we are doing. People smile when I walk into a room. I get emails from people every day saying "what you do makes my day brighter." I have been able to talk to students about entrepreneurship, and donate money and publicity to causes that are important to me. I truly feel like I am living a dream every single day! 
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced with this cupcake business?

Licensing, permitting, figuring out where to park. A big part of it has been my own inexperience with starting a business, and specifically, a food business. Anyone will tell you that opening a restaurant of any type is a labor of love, and much harder when you are flying solo. From day one, I have been in over my head in that regard, much more than I thought I would be. Part of the issue is that there is no legal model for what I do. By that I mean that the "roaming truck" is a new model, and the laws have not been written to suit that model. There is little that anyone can do about it, outside of changing the law itself. I remain optimistic that it is a matter of time. 
Are there other challenges you've faced that you think other potential small business owners might learn from?

Be very careful with any deals you make, contracts that you sign. Start small! Don't sign a 2 year lease on a place until you know if your idea is going to be successful. Save as much money as you can, because you will need it. There is always something new to buy, something breaking, some way you need to grow, and that takes money. 
Now let's move on to cupcakes, which I'm sure my followers are anxious to hear about.  On your website you state that you use only real ingredients.  In the current economic situation, do you find that the costs of using such high quality ingredients is balanced by your customers' willingness to buy your products?

We don't necessarily use the most expensive ingredients for every element of our cupcake. You aren't going to find me using fancy heavy cream or expensive french butter. We use real butter, real cake flour and everything is made from scratch, by hand, in small batches. We use expensive french chocolate, though, because there are certain things I just won't skimp on! I find it is about balancing the costs of the more expensive ingredients with those you can save on.
How many flavors of cupcakes do you offer? 
Depends on the day, can be from 7 to over 10.
What is the best selling flavor?  
Red velvet with cream cheese.
There is a trend in chocolate to create different flavor combinations.  What would you consider the most creative flavor you offer?

People seem most surprised by Banana Nutella, and recently we did a Stout Cake with Bailey's Buttercream and Chocolate Pretzels. Yum. 
Yum indeed.  What is most challenging about using chocolate or cocoa for cupcakes?

Chocolate cupcakes vexed me for the longest time, it's hard to get the right rich flavor of the cake, make it moist. Most people don't even know what a good chocolate cake should taste like, since they have been eating store bought or a mix for so long. Getting the right cocoa powder and chocolate make the difference for sure. 
Where do you get your recipes?  Are these family recipes you and your two friends have, or are they recipes you've created?

Most were online recipes from various websites, I would try different ones, I would tweak certain things, I would change others, until I got the flavor I wanted. I think of them now as "my recipes" but I stand on the shoulders of other baking giants who laid the foundations.
You mention on your website that your goal was to have a store front this summer.  Did that happen?  If so, can people buy cupcakes at the store?

We work with another baker who has a storefront. I still envision my own space down the line but I am happy with where I am at currently. I know my bills, my overhead, my location, so I am enjoying the first feeling of stability I've had since I started. 
I note you have a schedule of stops for the cupcake truck that you post.  Do you have a regular rotation of stops?

I do, but then I have some monthly stops, special events, charity events, business requests for me to pull up and promote an event. I'm literally all over the place. 
Which stop sees the greatest cupcake sales?

At this time, Love Park, in center city. 
Do different stops favor different flavors of cupcakes?

Yes, I would say so, some place the more unique stuff sells best, other places, the old standbys are the faves. But red velvet sells anywhere. Always. And it's not just cache, it really is our best all around cake. Even my husband is a fan.
Recently, I saw a news article that said your truck had been stopped for selling without a license.  There seems to be a lot of legal paperwork for small businesses to go through.  Will this situation affect where you do business?

It wasn't the license issue, it was the permits. I had licensing issues, but I fixed those, and now I have issues as to where I can park. It definitely impacts my business, but the longer I do this, the better I get at it, so I continue to screw up and then learn from my mistakes. It's the best way to learn, but can be crushingly difficult too. 
I note that you also offer cupcakes for parties and events.  How far does your company deliver?

Usually 10 miles outside the city, but we have gone farther, depending on the order. 
Where do you hope Buttercream Cupcake Lady will be in terms of business by next summer?  In five years?  In ten years?

I am working on 2 books, because I have always been a writer, and now I feel like I have something to say. I have lived through something very interesting, and found out what I think are some important things about the food business. I want to have my own dessert shop/store full of sprinkles, a few Buttercream kiosk locations. If I am really being honest, I would love to be the face of bakeware, in the way that Rachel Ray has her own line of pots and pans. I want that but with muffin tins and sweet papers! I would like to teach and lecture. And one day soon take a vacation. Because it has been a while!
Thank you so much, Ms Carrara, for talking with The Chocolate Cult today.  Readers in Philly, check out Buttercream.  Everyone else, let her know that you've read the review by leaving comments please.


Meghan Rae said...

I absolutely admire what you have done! I, too, am trying to get a cupcake business going. Any advice for a beginner who has this kind of dream???



TheChocolatePriestess said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Meghan. I hope you're following us because we just had a giveaway this past Saturday (you can still enter) and we have at least three more planned for November here on The Chocolate Cult.

I hope that Ms Carrara checks out the comments and leaves some of her own for us.

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