Sprinkles Cupcakes founder Candace Nelson is busy. Between opening stores in Houston and Chicago, taping a second season of Food Network's Cupcake Wars and having a baby, it's hard to believe she's headed back to Houston to judge the inaugural CoupleCake Wars competition, taking place Saturday at Sprinkles' Highland Village store.
The festivities kick off at noon with a live broadcast of The Cleverley Show from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., followed by a meet-and-greet with judges Nelson, celebrity hairstylist Cerón and alt-country singer Katie Stuckey with live music and free mini cupcakes. At 3 p.m. the CoupleCake Wars officially begin, with seven Houston couples competing for the ultimate weekend of Houston romance. The couples will compete by decorating their own "CoupleCakes."
Will be winners be Chad and Kasey, who had a tower of Sprinkles Cupcakes at their wedding? What about Michael and Rachel, who watch Cupcake Wars religiously? Will Nick and Carlos have an edge because they met while decorating their own cupcakes? Or will Mitchell and Robin be rewarded for years of Sprinkles fandom?
CultureMap's sat down with Nelson to glean advice for the CoupleCake Competitors as well as see what Nelson thinks of Houston's cupcake habits and what's coming next at Sprinkles.
CultureMap: How did CoupleCake come together?
Candace Nelson: Well we wanted to have a Houston event to celebrate Valentine's Day, and we wanted to incorporate elements of Cupcake Wars for the Houston fans of the show as well as benefit a charity. Which is a lot of elements to combine, but it all has come together and we're really excited. Houston is so enthusiastic — all the couples competing are so excited, and the work they put in just on these essays that were supposed to be simple statements is incredible.
CM: Do you have any advice for the CoupleCake competitors? What are you hoping to see on Saturday?
CN: I really like when people can incorporate their personal story into their cupcake. For example, if a couple got engaged in Paris, maybe they could use some French flavors or ingredients in the cupcake and incorporate some Francophile elements in the decorations. I really love when the cupcake tells that story.
CM: Why did you decide to partner with the Houston Food Bank?
CN: When my husband and I sat down to create this business plan for Sprinkles, we asked ourselves "What do we want Sprinkles to represent? What values do we want Sprinkles to have?" And we decided early on that if we were lucky enough to have a business that made a profit — which was never guaranteed, because everyone told us we were crazy — that we wanted to give back and be involved with local causes.
So I'd say this falls right into our core mission that we've had since day one. So that's why we donate the leftover cupcakes at the end of every day to local food banks and homeless shelters, and we partner with local groups like the Houston Food Bank as well as national charities like the Pink Ribbon cupcake for breast cancer research. And it's really fun to see members of the community come out and buy the cupcakes and support the cause.
In a way, it's our vehicle for social change. Not to overstate what it is, we are still a for-profit business, but to have this arm that's driving awareness is really gratifying.
CM: Why do you think cupcakes have become so popular for Valentine's Day?
CN: Valentine's Day is such a holiday about being comfortable and loved, and cupcakes bring you back to grandma's kitchen. And if it's coming from your sweetheart, what could be sweeter? It's more fun than a box of chocolate, I think it's more fun than flowers and it certainly brings you more pleasure.
CM: The last time I talked to you Sprinkles was just about to open. How has your experience in Houston been since then?
CN: It's been great, it's been awesome. People have responded so well and come out and supported us.
CM: Have there been any surprises about Houston cupcake tastes? How are we unique?
CN: Well, for example we came out with the German chocolate cupcake last month on kind of a trial basis, and after we stopped making them we got lots of e-mails, including several from Houstonians who loved it and begged us to bring it back. We knew that would be a popular flavor here and that's part of the reason why we came out with a German chocolate flavor.
My husband grew up in Oklahoma and I think there's a regional taste in this general area, these kind of flavors that you grew up with, like strawberry and German chocolate. The response wasn't a surprise, per say, but it made us realize we need to have a German chocolate cupcake on the menu here more often, if not all the time.
CM: What's the next new thing on the menu?
CN: We have an Irish Coffee cupcake coming out for St. Patrick's Day that's dark chocolate and Bailey's — really delicious. And for Arbor Day we are partnering with Trees for Houston on a cupcake to benefit them.
I'm also working on a low glycemic cupcake. Like the vegan and gluten-free cupcakes, it's not necessarily something I had in my head to develop because it's not how I eat but everyone deserves to be able to come in and have a cupcake on their birthday and we want to make that available to them. And of course we have the Red Hot Velvet and the Raspberry Chocolate Chip through Valentine's Day.