Recipe For Success: Cake in a Cup

Toledo Local Features  |  03/24/2010 7:00 am

One part: prior distaste for cupcakes
One scoop: mini business plan
Two packets: perfectionist-like business partners
One dash: realizing that individual cakes are what’s hot and celebrities really dig them…
And you’ve got your recipe for Cake in a Cup. Or something like it!

The ingredients that Lori Jacobs and business partner Dana Iliev discovered went into creating a cupcake shop in Toledo turned out to be the ideal combination for success two years later.  In the beginning they were figuring out perfect measures for café latte and cookies-n-cream flavored cupcakes, while trying to find a way to keep up with how quickly their business took off. Now, the duo has found a sweet spot that may be bringing them more attention if the butter keeps churning.

By handing out cupcakes and press kits in a New York City exhibition, Cake in a Cup has been contacted by The Food Network and qualified for a potential show called “Cupcake Wars” – consisting of four episodes – they are currently waiting to hear details. Also, Seventeen Magazine and Health Magazine have contacted them for special recipes to include in their publications – one being an online video and the other, a gluten-free feature recipe.

But rapid success won’t let the two self-taught frosting experts forget the quirks in the beginning. The many orders that came in before their doors officially opened on Valentine’s Day in 2008 could’ve been an indication of what was ahead.

“People were mad when they came to the shop and we weren’t open yet!” Jacobs said as they had been taking order requests in the months prior to see if the business would have any following. The pair began cooking out of Iliev’s kitchen, doing the entire order taking, baking, frosting and delivering that was involved. “A customer told a friend of ours that we looked like chickens with our heads cut off.” Jacobs said their beginning days had them doing all of the work and they weren’t getting much sleep.

The madness first developed when Jacobs began considering the idea of opening a cupcake shop, after being dissatisfied with the specialty cupcake shops she encountered while living in New York City.  “I thought [the cupcakes] were gross!” She said. Also, Iliev and her husband would visit Jacobs in New York; they would all note various businesses, saying “that’s something that Toledo doesn’t have,” as pursuing a new business was on the radar for them.

For the pair, who met a decade ago serving at Grumpy’s Deli in downtown Toledo, the original entrepreneurial plan was to pursue something other than cupcakes, but when that fell through the cupcake idea stayed with Jacobs when she moved back to Toledo. Aside from not liking other shops’ cupcakes, she’ll laughingly admit that just a few short years ago she used to only make cupcakes from a box – something she detests now. But perhaps it was the frequent stops at one particular cupcake shop – the halfway meeting point between home and her daughters school – that essentially stuck out in Jacobs’ mind: Toledo needs specialty cupcakes… but really delicious ones, of course.

Then mad research began after the purchase of a cupcake cookbook. Next, a mini business plan developed and Jacobs approached Iliev with the idea, whom she said loved it. Soon after, Jacobs’ obsessions with cupcake blogs were underway. Following the blog, All Cupcakes All the Time, Jacobs once told Iliev, “If we could get mentioned on that blog it would be the best thing ever!”

And in less than two years, things became very, very sweet.

They were mentioned on the blog. They have nearly 3,700 fans on their Facebook page – the original goal being just 500. “Now I want 10,000 fans!” Jacobs said.

In addition to the opportunity with The Food Network and other publications, the two came in contact with Andrew Z of 92.5’s morning show when donating mini cupcakes for a Toys for Tots charity event. The radio hosts, Jacobs and Iliev chatted throughout the broadcast, hitting it off. Now the “Cupcake Chicks” participate in the morning show every Wednesday morning for “Chick Chat.”

The initial idea of introducing themselves as new business owners was perhaps more difficult than attempting recipe after recipe. They would deliver cupcake samples to the Toledo Country Club and high-end hair salons. They left the menu and phone number for placing orders, in hopes that they would receive at least a couple phone calls. “We were a little embarrassed in the beginning,” Jacobs said about approaching establishments. “Dana and I used to argue in the parking lot about who would take the cupcakes inside.”

Now, delivering cupcakes is no worry as customers can come to them. “I still have our original business plan and the estimate was to sell 100 cupcakes a week and have a way to pay the bills!” Now that they have the store, Cake in a Cup typically sells between 400 - 800 cupcakes on weekdays and up to 1,500 on some busy weekends.

“We’re way more organized now. We have workers now and can delegate the work and concentrate more on getting customers through the door. We can concentrate more on our recipes and new recipes,” Jacobs said, adding that the newest recipe will be toffee crunch – flavored with vanilla, heath bar and cream cheese frosting. “With a partner [running a business is] tremendous,” Jacobs shared of Iliev and how much easier their lives became once they hired a baker. “Dana and I, we completely trust each other. She’s a perfectionist and so am I.”

The plan is to sell-out each day, but before they had a grasp on what to estimate in the beginning they were donating a lot of cupcakes. Now, leftover alerts are posted on the Facebook page and discounts are given to the first few callers. “I’m like a radio show!” Jacobs said in reference to posting requests for callers.

“People would even ask, ‘aren’t you scared?’ [about starting up a business] with the economy,” Jacobs said, remembering outside advice in the past two years, but continued, “Whether or not there is money, people are still getting married and having birthdays… there’s always a celebration!”

While she is confident in Cake in a Cup’s continued success and potential appearance on The Food Network, she has less confidence in another area. The celebrity following that really took off for the original specialty cupcake shop, Sprinkles out in L.A., doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect here in Toledo, (ah hem, Katie Holmes). “I can’t believe [Katie Holmes] hasn’t come in yet!” Jacobs said, “If she comes in we’ll name a cupcake after her! Her favorite… Any cupcake, we’ll just rename it!”

The mini business plan has seen small goals exceeded and new goals only getting bigger. And Voilà! That’s how you make Cake in a Cup.

From smallest to the most elaborate gatherings, Cake in a Cup offers volume pricing for catering events.  Give them a call to schedule a complimentary tasting at 419.491.1104.

Cake in a Cup is located at 6801 Central Avenue, Toledo, OH 43617
(behind Tim Horton's)

Visit their website.

Find Cake in a Cup on Facebook.