Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we feature Christy Milligan, owner of Cupcakes on Kavanaugh.
When did you open Cupcakes on Kavanaugh?
We opened in April 2008.
At the time, what made you want to open a cupcake shop? Was there another bakery that inspired you to bring cupcakes to Little Rock?
I was living in Charleston, SC at that time and there was a cupcake bakery there that we loved visiting. It was always our happy place…a place to go for a special treat. My husband was (is) in construction and when the market crashed it crashed hard in Charleston. I was the first “cupcake bakery” in Little Rock and Arkansas, so it was definitely a leap of faith. My family is from Arkansas so that is what brought us back to Little Rock from Charleston…I didn’t just randomly pick Arkansas for a cupcake bakery.
So when you opened, you were the first bakery to be completely dedicated to cupcakes. Was that intimidating?
It was very intimidating to be the first. My business plan at the time actually stated that “there are almost 100 cupcake bakeries around the country and more opening every day.” That having been said, you can probably find 100 cupcake bakeries in downtown Manhattan right now. I was definitely one of the cupcake pioneers 8 years ago…I didn’t have much information to build my business plan on, so yes…a little intimidating. But having just had a baby, I think I was on a “baby high” — becoming a mother was so much fun for me, I felt I could take on the world at that time.
What kind of response did you get from customers when you first opened?
People were very responsive when I first opened. Some were confused…they wanted to know what else I was going to make besides cupcakes. They had a hard time understanding how I was only going to sell just cupcakes. When I opened my doors for the first time I had a line out the door and sold out in 2 hours…the next day I sold out in 3 hours…and it was that way for at least a month. I had a wonderful response from customers and still have those fabulous customers today!
How do you think the cupcake scene has changed since you first opened?
The cupcake scene has changed a lot since I opened. I remember wanting to use kraft brown boxes (like the ones used today) but nobody carried anything but white. So, I bought white and folded them inside out so the white was on the inside and kraft was on the outside…I wanted to be different. And If I remember correctly I could only get 4, 6, and 12 count boxes. Now boxes come in all different colors, matte, shiny, all different sizes…you can pretty much find anything you want relating to a cupcake. Also, I know some people viewed the cupcake scene as a trend…but the cupcake is NOT a trend…it’s been around forever. I basically have taken a gourmet dessert and disguised it in a pretty little wrapper and poof…there’s the gourmet cupcake from Cupcakes on Kavanaugh!
Over the years, many cupcake shops have come and gone. What are some things that have contributed to Cupcakes on Kavanaugh’s longevity?
As far as my longevity, I attribute that to a solid business plan. If you fail to plan then you plan to fail. I came into the cupcake scene with a plan and I have stuck to it. It hasn’t been easy with all of the other bakeries now doing cupcakes and other cupcakeries opening in the area. Being the first to market is always a plus…but more importantly, having a quality, consistent product along with excellent customer service is definitely the key to my success. We still bake EVERYTHING from scratch every day using the finest ingredients! We use real butter, organic milk, real Madagascar bourbon vanilla — the good stuff! I also think people assume what we do is “easy”. Many people do not realize that we pretty much have already put in a days work by the time the doors open at 10am. We start everyday anywhere from 3am to 5am baking…that isn’t an easy task for a lot of people. A good cupcake is very cute & fun but it’s A LOT of work!
What’s one of the more interesting orders you’ve received?
I probably can’t say here what some of the most “interesting’ orders that we have received are…let’s just say we have delivered to some plastic surgeons before with very specific instructions on the decor.
What cupcakes have stood the test of time? Some of your customers’ favorites?
The classic vanilla cupcake is still probably the most popular flavor we have. We do all of the “classic” flavors daily because they are the most popular (classic vanilla, classic vanilla chocolate, black tie, Ghirardelli square, & red velvet). Our Red Velvet is a very popular flavor…it started out only on the menu 2 days a week, then we went to 3, then bumped it to every day…people just LOVE that cupcake. It is a very old traditional recipe with the cream cheese icing…and people flip over it!
How do you come up with new flavors? What’s your personal favorite?
Sometimes we just all stand around and brainstorm ideas for new cupcakes…or our customers may suggest a flavor. Our most recent cupcake was a request from a customer for a butter pecan cupcake. We did a couple of test batches, landed on a recipe, and it had quickly become one of my favorites. We candy our own pecans then bake them in the cupcake and top it off with a brown sugar buttercream. My personal favorite…that’s a tough question. I may have to say the Oatmeal Cream Pie. We make it every Wednesday and pretty much every Wednesday I have one for breakfast. It was my Nanny Verkler’s recipe and her favorite cake…I think I have followed in her footsteps on that one.
What’s one of the most interesting or craziest cupcakes you’ve ever created?
Probably the most interesting cupcake I’ve ever created was a Mango Curry cupcake. I was doing a wedding for a fabulous couple (my cupcake brides and grooms are always amazing…not sure how I get so lucky) and the groom was from India. He asked if I could create anything with curry…challenge accepted! I used fresh mango and curry for the cupcake and then cream cheese icing with fresh mango on top. The first bite was sweet but then you had the hint of curry right behind it…the flavors complimented each other well. So fun to bring that culinary culture to the cupcakery.
What’s unique about your cupcake recipe?
I think sometimes what’s unique about our recipes is that they are 100% from scratch…always. I feel very few people bake from scratch anymore. We use REAL ingredients 100% of time…I know that is a simple answer, but in a world of packaged food…you really can taste a difference. I like to say our customers have a sophisticated palate…they know what a quality dessert should taste like.
Do you foresee any changes to the bakery in the coming years? Any new and exciting developments?
I may try to start “Sweet Treat Sundays” — with all of the eateries open on Sundays now, I’m wondering if I should open my doors too. If I do this…I would love to incorporate other baked goodies like some brownies, cookies, whoopie pies, our cupcake dippers and pops…things like that. We also make our own lemonade & sweet tea…so that’s fun for summer. And…we have the good ice!
If you had to choose, are you “team cake” or “team frosting”?
I think I might be team frosting…probably not a hard guess considering how we ice our cupcakes. It’s very important to me that I have a bite of icing with every bite of cake…it’s a must. But I have to admit…nothing beats an un-iced hot vanilla cupcake right out of the oven…it practically melts in your mouth.