When Jami Curl opened Saint Cupcake, her hip bakery in Portland, Ore., in 2005, she didn’t plan to specialize in cupcakes. The shop originally offered cinnamon rolls, pies, brownies, and more. However, after several local publications touted the bakery’s cupcakes, Curl’s staff could barely keep up with demand. They quit making other pastries to focus solely on cupcakes, which quickly became the bakery’s sweet spot. Saint Cupcake now sells up to 1,500 cupcakes daily and fills large orders for birthdays, weddings, celebrity gifts, and corporate functions.
This year, the bakery brought back other baked goods to complement its cupcakes. Curl (pictured) recently talked with the Intuit Small Business Blog about why she changed her original business plan, what she’s doing to expand the company, and how she continues to introduce fresh ideas.
ISBB: When you started your business, were cupcake bakeries already trendy?
Curl: We opened our bakery about four weeks after Sprinkles Cupcakes in Los Angeles opened. Sprinkles is generally credited with starting the “cupcake trend,” so we were one of the first bakeries, aside from Magnolia Bakery in New York City, to really focus on cupcakes. So, at that point there was no trend to follow. We didn’t start out with only cupcakes, but we gradually got to the point, with our tiny kitchen and small staff, where we couldn’t do anything other than make cupcakes. It was a natural progression.
What sparked your decision this year to go back to selling a wide range of baked goods?
First, we moved to a much larger location. Our kitchen was big enough to allow us to get back to our original plan — a bakery that sells all sorts of goodies: cupcakes, cookies, bars, tarts, and savory items. The expansion was also part of my need, as a business owner, to do more in the kitchen. I didn’t really plan to bake cupcakes for the rest of my life. And, finally, I wanted some protection against any waning in the popularity of cupcakes.
How will you maintain your expanded pastry offerings without taking away from your core cupcake business?
We have two teams of employees at the bakery, the cupcake team (the majority of our employees) and the pastry team (just four employees, myself included). Having the two separate teams focus on their own products helps us deliver the best of both worlds: perfect cupcakes and perfect pastries.
You’ve also expanded to include e-commerce. Why did you decide that was important? Did you hire a consultant to help?
The online shop was important for us because major websites and magazines (we’ve been featured in Daily Candy, Sunset, Shape, More, People En Español, and many more) are much more willing to cover your story if your products are accessible to everyone and not just a local thing.
We didn’t hire a consultant. The entire project was figured out simply by trial and error. We packed boxes of cupcakes and mailed them to ourselves. We also packed boxes of cupcakes and threw them down the steps of the bakery a few times (to simulate cross-country travel). We did as much as we could with what we already had — and that’s a piece of advice I give out as often as possible. When starting something new, I say it’s best to make do with the things you already have, including staff talent.
Any other recent successes?
Yes! Just last week we taped a segment for the Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets show. The subject of the show wasn’t our cupcakes, but a few of our new bakery items: Alderwood smoked cookies, bonbonbunbuns, and much more! It’s a great sign that we aren’t known as just a “cupcake bakery.”