5 Questions With Candace Nelson: Cupcake Wars Judge and Sprinkles Queen

by in Food Network Chef, Shows, May 11th, 2011

Candace Nelson

Candace Nelson, judge and blogger extraordinaire from Cupcake Wars, is about to open her 10th Sprinkles store, finally bringing the “original cupcake bakery” to New York City. We caught up with Candace and got a sneak peek at the new store while she was in town from Los Angeles with the whole family – husband Charles is her business partner at Sprinkles, and they have two young sons.

It’s been a busy week for the Nelsons, who celebrated their first Big Apple store by ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and have been riding around town in their Sprinklesmobile, handing out free cupcakes. Sprinkles New York opens its doors this Friday, May 13: “We’re not superstitious here!” Candace says with a laugh.

Read on for the inside scoop on the new location, Candace’s favorite cupcake flavors and her take on the future of cupcakes.

Inside Sprinkles NYC

FN Dish: What sets this new Sprinkles store apart from your nine other outposts?
The first thing you’ll notice is that the façade of the store is really amazing. The modern dots, which are synonymous with Sprinkles, are climbing the façade of the building two stories high in all of our candy colors. Then we have the walk of fame: Right as you enter you’re stepping on stars that are highlighting our famous flavors at Sprinkles. It’s an homage to LA, where we first began. We also have these custom-designed ottomans in our modern dot colors that can be used for seating — they’re super comfy and fun. Also, there’s an homage to what used to be in this space, which was Gino’s, a famous Italian restaurant that was here for a long time. They were well-known for their dancing zebra wallpaper; we decided to keep it on one wall. On the second floor, there’s our Sprinkles party room, which we’ve done only once before, in our D.C. location. It’s got a pink floor and fun modern tables. Maybe we’ll do a Cupcake Wars viewing party!

Walk of Fame Stars

FN Dish: Have Cupcake Wars contestants ever inspired any flavors that you ended up creating for Sprinkles? Do you find that people recognize you from the show?
You know, a lot of times the very, very creative flavors are fun to eat, but they’re not necessarily going to translate that well to a cupcake that’s really sellable on a daily basis. I definitely get inspired, but in terms of turning that into actual Sprinkles flavors — not yet. I haven’t found that I’m that recognizable, but it’s funny that you asked that because just last night I was at a restaurant in New York, and the host asked me if I would go back to the kitchen because there were a lot of Cupcake Wars fans back there who wanted to meet me! They all watch the show and they were back there cheffing it up. So there are chefs watching this show, which is always exciting.

FN Dish: Your personal favorite cupcake on the Sprinkles menu?
I really love our banana cupcake. It’s one of those things I kind of have to encourage people to try because they’re like, “oh, banana bread, not that exciting.” But it’s divine! My other go-to favorite, because I’m a chocoholic, is the dark chocolate. It’s chocolate through and through. My preference is to get it without the sprinkles because you can really taste the smoothness of the frosting.

Box of Cupcakes

FN Dish: How has the cupcake world changed since you opened the original Los Angeles Sprinkles in 2005?
It’s been incredible to see what’s happened with the cupcake industry. I call it an industry, people laugh, but it’s an industry now. My husband is from Oklahoma, and at first when we were scouting locations, we thought, well, Oklahoma City really isn’t big enough to support a cupcakes-only bakery. Now there are three or four there. That just kind of sums up what we’ve seen, this proliferation of cupcakes-only bakeries. When we started, cupcakes were already huge in New York with Magnolia Bakery, but we were the first-ever cupcakes-only bakery. We made them in 25-plus different flavors and were using beautiful vanilla and chocolate, so really elevating the cupcake to this sort of edible art form and allowing it to stand on its own. We thought this is so specialized, it can probably only survive in a couple of markets. Now in every small town across America there is at least one cupcake bakery. You see it every week on Cupcake Wars. There are bakers from around the country coming to bake us what they think is the best cupcake and vying for the prize. The show hints to what’s going on across the country in the business.

FN Dish: Where do you see the Sprinkles brand five years from now?
I think a lot of people are wondering when the cupcake bubble will pop. The only thing I can say is that people were asking me that five years ago. What we’re trying to keep focused on always is just creating the best product. Charles and I are business people, and we’ve found that if you’re really focused on providing the best product and the best customer service, there’s a market for it no matter what. So I’d like to think that there will still be an insatiable demand five years from now for quality cupcakes. I think the ones that are opening now just because it’s a quote-unquote trend might not weather the storm. It’s a competitive industry and the best cupcakes will survive, just like in Cupcake Wars.

Sprinkles, 780 Lexington Avenue, New York (other locations in Beverly Hills, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Palo Alto, Scottsdale and Washington D.C.)

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