On Friday, September 27, Ava’s Cupcakes presented it’s grand opening of their third bakery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Ava’s Cupcakes, bakes and sells scratch-made desserts, though they are more specifically known for their cupcakes. The first bakery opened in New Jersey in 2011, and since then has gained fame for their delicious – yet complex – cupcake flavors.
Known for her pastry skills and creative recipes, the woman working behind the scenes-or in the kitchen so to speak, is none other than pastry chef Michelle Spell. Spell is not only the pastry chef who started Ava’s Cupcakes, but is also an entrepreneur and the creator of the incredible recipes. Since her appearance on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars: I Love Lucy edition back in 2012, her company has risen to fame in the food industry.
Spell’s prominence in the food industry has allowed her to open two other bakeries in North Carolina, one in Clemmons and her most recent in Winston-Salem . With her business continuing to rise in the food industry, along with her desserts being featured on media platforms like The Daily Meal, NBC’s TODAY Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Knot, The Boomer and Carlton Show, Better Nutrition, METRO New York, The Essence, The Huffington Post and Bake, there seems to be no stopping this company from making its mark in the culinary world.
So how did this company start and become so successful in the food industry today? What is the origin story behind Ava’s Cupcakes? In an interview with Michelle Spell, she tells her story and the birth her cupcake business.
When asking Spell what drove her to work in the culinary field, or more specifically the cupcake business, she explained, “In 2010, my family and I lived in New Jersey. At the time, we were having hard financial times. With the little ones at home I didn’t really have the opportunity to go out of our house to work. So I started selling cupcakes because I knew that people were buying cupcakes.
“They were trendy and there were TV shows like cupcake wars gaining attention-and for me I have always been in the culinary industry and thinking about what I could do to earn extra money. So cupcakes, cookies, baked goods seemed like the right thing to do, so I started making cupcakes from home, just so that I could bring in some extra cash. Then I think in 6 months we knew we had something bigger than just a little more than a home base business.”
Spell continued to explain that after she opened up her first retail store (bakery), “It was within 6 months of that store opening, that we knew that we had a very strong business, all with the quality of our products and the culture that we had in our store, just amongst the people and we knew that we were going to be here for a while.”
According to Spell, despite her pastry skills and talent for creating cupcakes with a twist, she didn’t attend culinary school or receive a formal education. Instead, her skills and experience came from growing up in an Italian household with a passion for food and working different jobs in the food industry.
During her youth, she had grown up in a Italian kitchen where they were always cooking and baking. She continued to discuss her experience in the culinary field as she grew up. Stating, “I ventured off when I was 15 and decided I wanted to go out into the world and see what the world knew-and if I could support myself working at bakeries and pizzerias. And then I went into national chain restaurants working in the kitchen.” She continued. “I just had such a passion for food and creating.”
As the interview continued, Spell was asked about her entry into Food Network’s ‘Cupcake Wars’ competition and her experience. She expressed how much fun it had been to be a part of the competition, but said that she would never take it too seriously. When the opportunity came, she didn’t think much about it and just went.
“The results of that (competition), have been immeasurable because we went from having one tiny store tucked away in Northern New Jersey to having several stores over a thousand miles.”
She goes onto say that being given the opportunity at such a young age (the company) and being in the competition led to their business receiving more recognition in the long run.
When questioned about her cupcakes and what made them stand out from other cupcakes, Spell expressed how they don’t just bake regular chocolate or vanilla, but they create different flavors of cupcakes. According to Spell, no cupcake is ever the same, with some containing decadent filling or being topped with sweet and savory frosting. Her cupcake recipes consist of different or mixed flavors coming together. For example, her latest seasonal cupcakes like a pumpkin cannoli cupcake. Two different flavors coming together as one cupcake.
Her creative cupcake ideas don’t stop there, she also has some pretty unique sweet treats for wedding parties who prefer something other than the traditional chocolate or vanilla cake with frosting. Spell offers “cupcake towers” for clients to chow down on for their big days. Popular amongst customers planning wedding parties, she can make these cupcake towers with not just one flavor of cupcake but many different flavors to give just a little more sweetness to any wedding.
Following the success of her bakeries and the opening of her third, the businesswoman gave some insight into her daily life and how she maintains the balance between her work and personal life.
“I work Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But I don’t always need to be in the store daily, because we have trained our employees so well to do things that I can do in the kitchen with the products and serving our guests. My week breaks up from office work to being in the kitchen, to visiting our stores and also being in the office away from the stores-so that I can concentrate on the bigger picture.”
Spell states that she breaks up her time between the three stores like different sections of the overall business itself. Then, when she’s at her desk away from all three, she manages the stores as a whole company.
Spell expressed that due to her business she is pretty busy, and that time management is something that can be difficult. Maintaining a business and raising four children with her husband, she says isn’t an easy task at all. She goes onto to explain that her family is her motivation for her business, just as it started from the very beginning when they were hit by hard financial times.
In fact, her business is named after her youngest daughter Ava. Spell states that reason she decided to name the bakery after her daughter is because whenever she would bake a cupcake she (Ava) would claim that it was hers.
As the interview started coming to a close, Spell was asked about what students can do to find success in the hard-hitting world of business, and in their lives going forward after college.
“Well I think that success is not just defined by achievements or even pay scale, right? There is so much more behind success and I think it’s knowing what you are created to do and understanding what your purpose is in that and then going after it.”
She discussed how in the college age bracket that there are many people that don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Spell believes that it is okay to take your time to find out what you want to do. She reasoned that due to our fast paced society, that it puts pressure on young adults to find a job as soon as possible, even if it’s not something they particularly enjoy and want to do with their lives. Instead she believes that they should be patient and find something that they, “feel they were meant to do.”
She goes on to say that, “the earnings aren’t everything. I think for myself, I went into business much later in life because I had to work when I was younger-I had to take care of myself-had to keep moving. And I never really slowed down and asked myself what I really loved and would I really want to make a living doing this (with my life). I think success is learning and figuring out your purpose.”
Finally, she was asked what HER favorite cupcake was. In response, she answered, “I would have to say the banana guava cupcake, the components or ingredients in that cupcake is everything I like. And when it comes together, it is just even more delicious than the ingredients by themselves.”
If you haven’t checked out Ava’s Cupcakes yet and are interested in a sweet treat, be sure to head over to Winston-Salem and treat yourself to a cupcake with a twist. And for those of you that may be vegan or gluten free, Ava’s Cupcakes offers different kinds of cupcake flavors that are gluten free and vegan too!