Karen Cook longed for the old-fashioned taste.
Even without a sweet tooth, the Fresno resident would occasionally succumb to the delicious, highly-stylized veneer of today’s pastries — but with a single bite, the feeling of excitement would instantly shift to disappointment.
“They always seemed to look way better than they tasted,” she said. “I just thought about what my mom used to make when I was little, and thought if I liked that, there has to be other people who do, too.”
And with a nudge from her husband, Bobby, the two decided to take Fresno back to the 1940s — baking made-from-scratch cupcakes every day on site for the past eight years.
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Classic tunes from the era, old-school décor and a friendly disposition greet you as you enter Cupcakes Bakery, and that positive atmosphere is exactly what Cook was hoping to create for her customers.
See, the couple isn’t a stranger to owning a business, having operated a tanning salon near their current location at Cedar and Herndon avenues for several years.
But when Cook finally took the leap of faith to jump start her cupcakes-focused dream, everything from the rental space to finding equipment seemed to fall quickly into place.
“I love food … and I love cooking … and I love eating,” she said. “We use all-natural ingredients that you would bake with from scratch at home. It just tastes much better.”
Still — there was a bit of a learning curve for Cook to overcome. Baking wasn’t her thing so she spent the summer researching and experimenting with recipes in her home kitchen until she felt secure with their product.
And when selecting Cupcakes Bakery’s legendary frosting, the matriarch looked to her mother’s famous frosting that coated their family’s cookies during Christmastime.
For the first year, Cook was responsible for baking, frosting and prep-work, while Bobby handled the front and assisted with cleaning.
Their daily grind has been transferred to a growing staff within the past few years, which now includes their family.
The couples’ four children were young when Cupcakes Bakery was established. But as they got older, they gradually started to take on tasks like dish washing, mopping and even manning the street corners with a big sign to attract customers.
“We don’t think about doing things without each other,” Cook explained. “It just kind of takes everybody when you branch out and do something like this. It takes a group effort.”
With eight years under their belt, the Cooks and their small team have perfected the wheel of a nearly 23-hour production schedule, requiring bakers to start working at 11 p.m., frosters to begin around 5:30 a.m. and preparations for the following day finishing at noon.
Nothing from Cupcakes Bakery comes premade — there isn’t even a freezer on site.
The 15 flavors offered range from red velvet to coconut, with several rotating a couple times throughout the week and a new option available each day. Cook said she’s always coming up with new recipes.
Still, it’s red velvet, strawberry and Oreo cupcakes that are typically the first to go.
“We are always coming up with new recipes. I have things in my head that I want and they don’t all workout,” Cook said. “You try this and keep working with it until we get it to where I like it. I’m super picky, and when you’re doing it by hand you have to have that higher level of expectation.”
The Cooks are also proud of their ability to turnover very little waste, using leftover cupcakes as samples for customers or donations to elementary school staff and the Fresno Rescue Mission.
They believe the best way to market their product and give back to the community is to simply give away their offerings — and regularly agree to various donation requests throughout the year, as well as bring cupcakes with them wherever they go.
Cupcakes are available in standard and mini sizes, along with other sweet treats that have been added over the years.
Cook lists cheesecakes, chocolate chip cookies, frosted and unfrosted sugar cookies, cinnamon rolls, banana pudding, Fresno State ice cream and Dewar’s chews as a handful of their items.
Strawberry pizza — offered in individual, half and whole pizzas — is a new creation for March.
“We focus severely on the quality and customer service because those are the two things that are missing everywhere,” she said. “I want to be like Superior Dairy when we grow up, and stay here for a very long time.”
GO: Cupcakes Bakery, 7062 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno.