Here’s an Inside Look at the Cupcake Queen’s Recipe for Success
From the iconic Sprinkles Cupcakes to LA favorite Pizzana, Candace Nelson has created an empire rooted in her passion for delectable cuisine. In addition to being a wildly successful and creative entrepreneur, Nelson is also a New York Times bestselling author, executive producer, wife, mother and dog mom. Her cookbook, “The Sprinkles Baking Book,” allowed readers to get an inside glimpse into the secrets behind America’s favorite cupcakes. And in her new book, “Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe to Turn Your Passion into Profit,” Nelson provides readers with the tools needed to turn their dreams into a very real (and potentially delicious) reality.
For Nelson, her love of baking and great food has been central to her life since she was a child. “I was raised overseas, with a lot of my childhood spent in Southeast Asia,” Nelson explains. “My family loved food and loved dining out. I still remember, as a child, all of the incredible food we used to eat in Hong Kong, in particular.” Due to that, Nelson grew up with a more developed palate than most children in the United States. “On the other hand, I really came to love baking because it allowed me to connect with the treats that I missed most in America,” she explains. With the help of her mother, Nelson learned the ins and outs of baking. Little did she know that some flour, eggs and sugar would serve as the foundation for her big break.
After moving back to the States and graduating from college, Nelson ended up working at a technology company during the “dot-com boom.” However, soon after, she found herself facing the “dot-com bust”—and out of a job. “A few months later, 9/11 happened. It was the first opportunity for me to take a look inward and reflect on what it was that I really wanted to do with my career,” Nelson shares. “I wanted a little more professional purpose, and that’s when I decided to go to pastry school instead of going to business school.” After making that pivot, Nelson began by making special occasion cakes before realizing that cupcakes were a better business idea. “I realized that cupcakes were this very beloved and nostalgic treat that was still mostly geared toward kids, so I decided to reinvent the cupcake and elevate it from the inside out,” she says. And so, Sprinkles was born in 2005.
Sprinkles Cupcakes quickly rose to fame and induced a nationwide cupcake phenomenon. Then, came the revolutionary cupcake ATM. “The cupcake ATM idea was really an example of leaning into frustration and finding opportunity,” Nelson beams. While she was pregnant with her second son, Nelson returned home late at night from a friend’s party and was faced with a very strong craving for a dark chocolate Sprinkles cupcake. Unfortunately, there were no cupcakes in her house and given the hour, Sprinkles was closed. “I was frustrated because I was like, ‘Well, I own a bakery and I can’t even get a cupcake right now,’ so my husband and I started batting around these ideas of what it would look like to be able to get a cupcake late at night,” she shares. Eventually, the pair came up with the idea for a high-end vending machine that would allow customers to get a cupcake at any hour of the day or night.
After taking over the world of sweet treats, Nelson moved in a more savory direction with Pizzana. “I’ve always been a fan of taking hand-held and simple foods and putting an elevated twist on them,” Nelson explains. “So, making simple foods more special is sort of the connection between Sprinkles and Pizzana.” However, the real reason why Nelson chose pizza for her next foodie venture was because of Chef Daniele Uditi. After trying his pizza and learning that he had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant, Nelson felt compelled to partner with him. “I believed in him as a founder, I loved his origin story, I saw a need in the market, I knew what I could do with this pizza in terms of branding and experience and I was moved to do it with him,” she says. When it comes to her favorite pizza, Nelson likes to keep things simple with Pizzana’s classic Margherita, which features the highest quality fior di latte cheese and San Marzano DOP tomatoes.
Though it seems as if nothing could take Nelson by surprise, her latest venture did. Nelson’s new book, “Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe to Turn Your Passion into Profit,” was an idea that came about during the Covid-19 lockdown. “I didn’t always want to write a book,” Nelson states, “but it was a moment in time when the idea just made sense for me.” Since stepping away operationally from Sprinkles, Nelson began mentoring and investing in female-founded businesses. Upon realizing that she was rather limited in her reach, however, she figured that writing a book could help more women and business owners.
When she’s not ruling her decadent empire or starting a new project, Nelson can be found dining at Pizzana with her family or hanging at home with her dog, Willy.
Allie Lebos graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2017 with a BA in Communication. While in school she was a staff writer at The Daily Nexus for nearly two years. Since graduating she has written for The Palisades Magazine, as well as Hidden Hills Magazine. Currently living in Santa Monica, Allie loves to indulge in good food, hot yoga, and daily walks along the beach; writing articles on travel, special events, as well as features on local businesses and individuals.