The Lucky Cupcake Company is one sweet success story. Cupcake diva Joanne Jarin, owner and self-taught pastry chef, was baking in her home just two years ago.
Today, her Lucky Cupcake Company, located in upscale Bucks County, Pa., a dozen employees, three of them full-time, and a reputation that keeps pulling in the customers, locals as well as tourists. In the fabled county where desserts at restaurants often are priced at $9.00 each, a fancy cupcake for $2.75 is a bargain.
Jarin's pink-walled bakery is bright and airy, and dozens of decorated cupcakes glow like jewels in the glass display cases. Colorful crayon drawings of cupcakes, the work of grade-school Picassos, line the walls, and piles of Lucky Cupcake Company t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and infant clothes are stacked near the white tables and chairs in the little dining area.
"I wanted it to be fun to come here," Jarin said. However, all the colorful froth and fun rests on a solid business plan .
She opened her bakery in May 2010, stepping into an unforgiving economy, and business has been booming since, showing steady growth and benefiting from social networking which brings in new customers and keeps her in touch with her regulars. Her fans follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and a lighthearted video is posted on YouTube.
"It was a scary time to open a new business, but it was a smart time, too," said Jarin. "I can't tell you how many people advised me against it. Then I found the right financial advisor who said to me, 'This is how you can do it.'"
A divorced stay-at-home mother of four, Jarin had worked in the food industry before her marriage, so she had practical experience. She also had several advantages.
Perhaps the prime one is that she was a local girl. She had grown up in Plumsteadville, Pa., where her 1,700-square-foot shop is situated. It's close enough to home that her children can walk there from school, and local people offered to help when they discovered her move into the business world.
Another advantage was the business landscape. There are no other bakeries for miles and there were lots of empty spaces. "That meant I was able to negotiate a decent lease," she said. She was able to borrow from her own investment fund to pay for start-up costs.
Then there was a heightened interest in cupcakes all over the country. Cupcakes had just escaped the grade school classroom party scene and settled firmly in the adult world.
Jarin's cupcakes are the showgirls of the cupcake world – a red velvet cupcake filled with cinnamon cream cheese icing topped with vanilla butter cream, for example. Or a favorite of the kids – chocolate cake filled with milk chocolate peanut butter mousse, glazed in chocolate and topped with chocolate butter cream.
They're made with farm-fresh ingredients and contain no preservatives. Those not sold are given to local food banks.
Moving beyond the cupcake craze
Jarin said, "I got in on a trend. That was one form of success but you have to have staying power. I knew I'd have to do more than just make cupcakes.
"Growth has been steady, but I'm struggling, just like every other business right now," she said. Jarin said any cupcake she makes can also be made into a cake, so she expanded her menu to include many desserts, including specialty cakes, wedding cakes, brownies and cookies.
She said she is proud of not being afraid to take the next step. "You have to let go of your fear," she said.
The video on YouTube is actually her successful application for the Food Network’s "Cupcake Wars." Shortly after submitting it, Jarin and a worker found themselves in California to do battle on the television show.
That appearance is still bringing in business. Bucks County is tourist country and visitors who watched the "Cupcake Wars" stop in to sample the goodies and buy a T-shirt or hat. "They come from Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis—they just like the experience," Jarin said.
In addition to the retail shop, the company has a lively wholesale business, selling to local caterers, restaurants and private clients. "Cupcake girls" deliver orders in about a 30-mile range.
A dozen varieties of cupcakes and one special selection, as well as seasonal varieties, are available daily in the shop. Special-order cupcakes include ice cream cupcakes, candy bar cupcakes, cookie cupcakes and cocktail cupcakes. Cocktail cupcakes are modeled on popular drinks such as Grasshoppers, filled with Crème de Menthe ganache, and Margaritas, soaked in tequila syrup.
The Lucky Cupcake Company shop also schedules parties—a build-your-own cupcake party for a child's birthday, after-hours parties for adults, who can have a special cupcake baked for them and then decorate it themselves at the topping bar. On weekend nights, people can rent the entire space, including use of the kitchen for private occasions such as baby or bridal showers.