Having recovered from the recent foodie happenings at the Vendy Awards, I regained the appetite for something savory, sweet and kick ass yummy. In my search for more delicious awesomeness, I stumbled upon some seriously flavorful cupcake minis. I recently had a chat with Kumquat Cupcakery Founder Keavy Landreth about her growing business and her insanely tasty mini cupcakes. I assume that you were interested in culinary from the get-go (since you graduated from Culinary Institute of America and The French Culinary Institute) but did you always gravitate towards dessert? Small disclaimer: I didn’t graduate from the CIA or FCI. I took a summer long course at the CIA when I was 17 and attended the FCI for 3 months before dropping out because I got too busy with Kumquat Cupcakery. But, Yes! I attribute much of my love of food to my mother who is a wonderful cook and always made sure to have me by her side in the kitchen. I remember my favorite game to play with my friends when I was little was to grab every ingredient in the kitchen and attempt to make it into something bake-able. I’m not sure anything actually worked out, but it was a whole lot of fun. When I was around 12 I remember writing in my journal that I was going to open a coffee shop that was also an art gallery and music venue -- I guess that’s what happens when you grow up around Seattle.
Undertaking a project such as launching a small business can be a struggle especially when one has limited resources. What was your experience like when you were in the process of turning your ideas into something real? I honestly went about everything in a very naive manner - I’m a food lover and an artist, but I’m not a business person. I had just graduated from Parsons for Illustration and had been working at the Bumble & Bumble Cafe for about a year, so I was getting rather antsy for something new. I began baking cupcakes and couldn’t stop.......It was honestly all I could do! I would spend all my money from what I earned through the Cafe, and paintings I was selling on the side, on ingredients for new cupcakes. At one point a friend told me I should probably start selling them before I went broke and directed me to the Artists & Fleas market. I set up a booth there and got amazing feed back from people who tried my cupcakes. I heard over and over (and still do) that my cupcakes are the best someone has ever had. That was all it took to make me want to open a company.
How long did you spend researching prior to opening Kumquat Cupcakery? About zero time. Honestly. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and I dove in head first. Because of that I’ve had to play many years of catch up to learn how to be a business person. I don’t mind though - I’ve purposely kept Kumquat small over the years in order to not get in over my head, and I think it’s effected the product in a positive manner. I’m now in the midst of finally planning a store front with another baker and I can’t seem to do enough research! I’m really having fun with it! I finally know the biz a little better and am more confident in my abilities as a baker and entrepreneur.
Was it important to taste test all the other cupcakes in town? I taste tested a few, but it wasn’t very important for me. I think when someone creates a product it needs to be all them. You can’t go around and take bits and pieces of what other people are doing and try to make it your own -- people are smart and they won’t react well to it. My cupcakes are all me. They are what I want when I bite into a mini cupcake. I still eat them all the time and am still wowed at how delicious they are.
As someone who actually has tasted competitors’ products, what makes Kumquat Cupcakery different? There are many many things that make kumquat cupcakes unique: they are mini but pack a punch, they are hard to find, they come from natural ingredients (I’m never going to use a monster energy drink in my cupcakes), but I think mostly it’s because they are all me. I’m the one that is baking most of the time, I’m the one coming up with the flavors, I’m the one writing the emails, updating the facebook page, standing at the flea market, and setting up the weddings. I do have people that help me, but the cupcake really reflect what I want to eat......and since I’m a perfectionist, what I want to eat turns out to be really really good. :)
How has your business progress since its launch? Like I said it’s been a whole lot of trial and error so the process has been slow, but I definitely don’t think that’s a bad thing. Over the years I’ve learned what my strengths and weaknesses are owning Kumquat and am just now ready to move onto the next stage, which is opening an actual retail location.
You must have had a lot of ideas as to which flavors you want to incorporate in your ‘menu’ so how did you narrow it down to just the essentials? The cupcakes on my menu are the cupcakes that I think are really really solid. They may not be the most wacky or over the top, but they are cupcakes that when I take a bite, I smile. I experiment with new flavors every weekend at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg and some work and some don’t. Just recently the blueberry apricot didn’t seem to catch on, but the raspberry key lime was a huge hit, so that one will definitely be making a repeat appearance.
You offer seasonal flavors like pumpkin, carrot, strawberry and orange poppy seed. Any plans on expanding the list? I have a super duper jumbo list of cupcakes in my head that I don’t get to updating on the website menu because it would make things way too crazy. What I suggest is that folks email me asking what new flavors I have in the rotation when ordering. I also make sure to regularly update our facebook page when I create a new flavor.
Do you actually use kumquats in your cupcakes? It’s funny, I get asked this question all the time for obvious reasons, but I do not. I tried a few different kumquat recipes when I first started, but none of them where able to recreate that wonderful sweet and sour flavor you get when you bite into a real kumquat. I decided that it was simply too unique to fold into cake!
Do you offer made-to-order flavors? Of course! I love a good challenge so I encourage people to request flavors. The only thing I don’t do is fondant. I will not create a princess or airplane themed cupcake. When I bite into something I don’t want anything in the way that I’m going to have to move, put to the side, or that will disrupt the flavor and texture of the cupcake.
If you had to recommend just one flavor for potential customers to try, which takes the cake (pun intended)? I simply can’t answer that question. They are all amazing! Sorry.
What flavor is your best seller? The maple bacon. Not only is bacon really hip right now, but the cupcake is also super delicious and addicting. I get in BIG trouble when I don’t bring it to the flea markets.
What flavor isn’t as popular? Banana! No one ever orders it, but I keep it on the menu because it’s so so so good. It’s a total pain in the ass to make too, but every time I bite into it my heart swells and I want to do a little dance in celebration.
The most rewarding thing about pouring your heart into what you make is the reaction that follows when one bites into your cupcakes. What was the best reaction that you’ve ever witnessed/heard so far? Reactions are definitely the best thing about my job! I’m not sure I could pick just one incident. Cupcakes make everyone happy and to see someones eyes roll into their head and say “oh my god, this is the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten” is just about the best thing in the world.
Any words of wisdom for people who want to run a small business in a niche market? Stay true to yourself! Be aware of your competition, but don’t let that affect you and your product too much. You can’t be everything! Make sure that what you are doing is from the heart, and people will respond positively to that.