Other Feature Writing
Icing on the Cake
A "Cityfare" column for Harmony Magazine
“A cupcake shop? Are you kidding? We don’t even know how to bake!”
That’s what Vancouver entrepreneur Lori Kliman said when her long-time friend and soon-to-be business partner Heather White suggested that their new venture should involve miniature cakes and plenty of buttercream.
Kliman and White, who met as teens in Victoria and worked together in several different companies, always wanted to start a business together. They just never dreamed that their business would be…Cupcakes.
Launching several years ago with a small bakery on Denman Street in downtown Vancouver, the pair recently opened their second Cupcakes shop in the city’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. And yet, until they got the idea for their cupcake stores, neither Kliman nor White had any food business experience.
Their inspiration came during a business trip to New York in the fall of 2001, when they stopped at the famed Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village. As Kliman recounts, “Heather was standing outside waiting for me” and announced that she had the business idea they had been looking for – they should open Vancouver’s first cupcake business. They were 27 years old.
In January 2002, they happened to pass by a storefront for rent on Denman Street in Vancouver’s West End. Despite Kliman’s initial scepticism, by February they had incorporated their company and signed a lease for the Denman Street space. In April, Cupcakes opened for business.
“Our goal for the first year was just to stay open,” Kliman says. “I was married to the business,” working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. A friend of a friend became their first baker, and co-owners Kliman and White spent their days on the floor, talking with customers and doing anything that needed to be done.
Although their initial “let’s just do it” decision to dive into the cupcake world may have seemed impulsive, Kliman and White are savvy marketers who have formulated a clear vision for their business – a vision that takes its inspiration more from successful retailers like Starbucks than from mom-and-pop bakeries. “We make an excellent product, using the best ingredients…the way Mom used to,” Kliman says, “[But] our objective is to build a strong and consistent brand.”
That vision comes through loud and clear in their pink-walled stores, whimsically retro spaces with cheerful staff sporting “I love Cupcakes” T-shirts. The cupcakes, too, with names like the Sweet Sixteen and the Caramella, are old-fashioned fantasies with thick frosting swirled seductively on top.
Kliman recently took a break - just long enough to get married in Napa Valley. Did she serve cupcakes at her wedding? “Uh, no,” she says, citing the logistical challenges involved in transporting cupcakes from Vancouver to California. But her post-wedding festivities continued with a party on Vancouver Island, and sure enough, there were plenty of good old-fashioned cupcakes on hand.
Cupcakes, 604-974-1300. 1116 Denman St. & 2887 W. Broadway, Vancouver, BC. www.originalcupcakes.com.