Help, Please: Candace Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes

Chief correspondent and new mom SuChin Pak finds out how other moms parent

It seems silly now to think anyone could have doubted the power and allure of cupcakes. Back in 2005, Candace Nelson and her husband quit their jobs as investment bankers to open a cupcake bakery shop called Sprinkles — and the rest, as they say, is history. (Millions of cupcakes later, locations all over the globe still command velvet ropes.) As an entrepreneur and new mom, I wanted to know: What’s her secret recipe for having it all? — SuChin Pak


So I think it’s safe to say you started the cupcake movement. Are you surprised there seems to be no end to our collective cupcake craving?
Naturally, when I left the business world to bake cupcakes, people thought I was a little nuts. When I poured my life’s savings into opening the world’s first cupcakes-only bakery, in Beverly Hills, at the height of the low-carb craze, people thought I was certifiable! But I simply dreamt up a place that I would like to go … and I am delighted there are so many others who think it’s special, too.

How do you take a small idea and grow it into something huge?
I am a big believer in starting small to test your passion. I started with a custom cake business I ran out of my kitchen. My husband delivered orders around town in our 12-year-old Saab hatchback. I’m [also] a big believer in branding: Invest in a good name (that’s available!) and brand identity to set a strong foundation for future growth.

candace nelson!

What was the moment you knew you’d hit on something big?
DailyCandy L.A. announced our opening the day that Sprinkles opened in April 2005. We had no idea of the power of DailyCandy, and we sold out within hours (and the momentum never subsided). Our business was at its maximum … or so we thought. Nine months after that, we received a call from The Oprah Winfrey Show asking if we could provide cupcakes for the studio audience the following morning. Oprah had received our cupcakes from Barbra Streisand and wanted to feature them! Needless to say, we said yes and hopped a red-eye to Chicago with 300 cupcakes in tow. Overnight we became a national, if not international, brand.

The modern feel and whimsy of Sprinkles are what really stand out. (Can you tell I’m a fan?) What inspires your design aesthetic?
I love contemporary art and sit on the board of a nonprofit, LAXART, which exposes me to the amazing art world in Los Angeles. I am active at LACMA and the Hammer, too, and find inspiration in the artists’ studios I visit as well as the incredible modern architecture that surrounds me every day in L.A.

What’s the best advice you wish you had taken about running your own business?
Hire and train employees as soon as possible, so you can focus on operations and growth. The first year of business, I worked fifteen-hour days seven days a week frosting cupcakes in our Beverly Hills bakery. I was mired in the details and had no energy or time left at the end of the day to think about the future of the business.

candace nelson!

What’s one thing no one tells you about parenthood?
How long the days are and yet how quickly the months and years fly by.

What’s the best piece of parenting advice you’ve received?
Quality time with your kids cures pretty much any issue.

What’s your favorite baking memory?
Growing up in Indonesia, baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom. I couldn’t get my favorite treats there, so I had to learn to make them myself.

Something you still get a kick out of: A handwritten note.

Your essential beauty item: My Céline sunglasses. Perfect for those days when even concealer doesn’t do the trick.

Favorite kiddie bedtime book:
Harry the Dirty Dog. Especially important to my youngest son, Harry.

Favorite place to shop: I adore Curve in L.A. and Kirna Zabête in NYC.

Best bath soap for baby: Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. Honest Bubble Bath.

Stroller of choice: The Bugaboo Bee in yellow.

Essential mealtime accessory: Kube cutlery from Cutipol.

Go-to baby gift: “It’s a Boy” or “It’s a Girl” Sprinkles cupcakes gift box or a FedEx shipment of Sprinkles ice cream.

Favorite way to recharge: I go to SoulCycle. It clears my head and reinvigorates my body.

candace nelson!

Go-to family dinner: My kids like sushi and pizza, so we are able to eat together in harmony. Izaka-Ya and Pizzeria Mozza are favorites in my house.

Favorite app: Trend Central.

Bookmarked websites: Monocle, Pamela Salzman, Manrepeller, New York Times Dining, Pinterest.

Morning reads: DailyCandy, Goop, and Huffington Post.

On your bedside table: My iPhone charger, a Fiji water bottle, and an intimidating stack of New York, Interior Design, Restaurant News, and Artforum magazines waiting to be read.

Favorite travel item: My monogrammed purple T. Anthony luggage.

Always in your fridge: Organic almond milk, to add to my Nespresso coffee in the morning.

Always in your medicine cabinet: Arnica, for the inevitable bumps and bruises of my 3- and 6-year-old boys.

Say no to: Overscheduling.

Say yes to: Knowing your limits.

And don’t forget to: Breathe.

candace nelson!

Photos: Kimberly Genevieve for DailyCandy