If you know me at all, you’ll also know what a cupcake-aholic I am. My mom says this has been the case ever since I was a wee tot—I’d definitely choose cupcakes and cookies over chips and fries any day—and no one was more excited than me when the cupcake craze swept the United States a decade ago.
image by Justin Chesney
So I’ll admit: I fangirled out a bit when I met Candace Nelson a few weeks ago at the opening of her Sprinkles Nashville location in 12South. Candace and her husband Charles are often credited with starting the cupcake madness when they opened their first Sprinkles outpost in Beverly Hills in 2005; when they launched their cupcake ATM concept in 2012, they got that much bigger with their innovative approaches. Now, they have a menu of ice creams, cookies and sundaes, plus nearly 20 locations in the United States and have even franchised overseas.
image by Justin Chesney
After being a Sprinkles fan for a decade, I’m very excited you found a home in Nashville! How do you and the team decide where to open new locations?
Nashville has always been on Sprinkles’ radar. With a booming culinary scene, we knew it was a perfect place for us. It was just a matter of finding the right location…which was solved when my friend Reese Witherspoon told me that her new shop Draper James needed a co-tenant. A few months later, we broke ground!
I read that you grew up in Southeast Asia, which is when you started to feel your way around the kitchen. As a frequent traveler who has also spent years abroad, I’m curious: What sorts of things did you make back then, and how on Earth did you find normal ingredients? (I remember one Thanksgiving living in Holland where we had to find a farmer to kill us a turkey, which arrived with feathers intact, and visit multiple commissaries to source a single can of pumpkin!)
When I lived in Medan, Indonesia, I spent afternoons baking my favorite American treats to keep me connected to my homeland. Rice Krispie treats, brownies and chocolate chip cookies were on regular rotation. There was one small store in town that stocked American products, but since everything came by boat, its products were usually far from fresh. But stale cereals and bloomed chocolate did not deter me!
Many other cupcake bakeries were unable to survive pass the fad phase (R.I.P. Crumbs), and yet 10+ years into your business, Sprinkles continues to expand and thrive. What’s the recipe to your success?
A key part of our mission is to continuously innovate. We are always looking for a new way to delight our customers—whether it’s with a Cupcake ATM or our new ice cream and cookie line. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We will never change or compromise our product quality or customer service. Our cupcakes, cookies and ice cream will always be made fresh daily from the finest ingredients, and we will always go above and beyond to exceed our customers’ expectations.
You’ve franchised overseas. How involved are you in those branches, and given cultural differences in respect to food, did you have to tweak the recipes at all, or are they the same as you’d find in any of the U.S. branches?
There was initially a lot of setup for our Middle East franchise. They sent franchise representatives to spend months training with us and we sent an opening team. We also have a dedicated member of our team in the US responsible for our franchise. We did tweak our recipes to replace vanilla extract that contains alcohol with a vanilla that does not. We also changed the rotation of our flavor schedule to offer flavors that are more popular—like Chai, pistachio and peanut butter—more often.
If you could only eat one Sprinkles product for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
A Sprinkles Sundae: It combines the best of both worlds (a scoop of ice cream in between a cupcake top and bottom). The combinations are endless but I’d probably go for rocky road ice cream in between a banana cupcake.
image by Justin Chesney
Speaking of…I’m sure people see how fit you are and don’t believe you actually eat what you make! What’s your secret to balancing such a sweet career with healthy living?
It’s all about moderation! And that’s exactly what a cupcake is—it’s actually portion-controlled! But in all seriousness, I lead a very active lifestyle and I like to eat desserts that are rich and satisfying, made with the finest ingredients, so that my cravings are sated with reasonable amounts. That’s why Sprinkles is my go-to.
I know you and your husband support many charitable organizations—why is that such an important part of your ethos and which causes would you like to see people give to this holiday season?
When Charles and I were creating Sprinkles, we agreed that if we were fortunate enough to be successful, we would make charitable giving a part of our business model. We donate leftover cupcakes and cookies each night to local food banks and hold a toy drive each holiday season, distributing collected toys in our local communities. We also just partnered with Jessica Alba to raise $25,000 for Baby2Baby, an amazing organization that I’m personally involved with which provides low-income families with necessities like diapers and clothing.
Complete this sentence: If I weren’t a pastry chef, I would be ______________.
An interior designer. I have a real passion for modern design, art and architecture.