At 4 a.m. each morning, owner Renee Brown and baker Brittiny Cobbs begin their day preparing freshly made dough and frosting at The Cupcake Company. Once the ovens come on, scrumptious smells of seasonal pumpkin chocolate chip, salted caramel and classic red velvet cupcakes fill the bakery.
On Wednesday, the company celebrated its seven-year anniversary with promotions, samples and giveaways. Pies, brownies, cheesecake and edible cookie dough are among the wide variety of baked goods it has to offer.
Brown never intended on starting her own bakery. Growing tired of her previous job, she began making cupcakes as a hobby. After making her first batch of cherry cheesecake cupcakes, Brown’s husband handed them out to his colleagues. They thought they were delicious and began making requests for more.
“After a while people kept asking if they could order some from me,” Brown said. “I made a Facebook page and then I just got so busy doing it that we installed a double oven. Then it got to the point where people were wanting weddings and events and that’s when we ended up moving into our building. It just kind of happened, I didn’t set out to do it.”
In 2011, Brown held the first anniversary celebration and got customers more involved by handing out half-price certificates, hosting children’s activities and giving out free mini cupcakes. After its success, the event became annual and customers often remark excitement about it all year.
This year, the company continued handing out half price gift certificates and held drawings for discounted coupons on certain bakery items for the day. There were also refreshments, samples from the cookie dough bar and many different flavors of frosting to try.
Although there are many promotions during the celebration, they don’t stop there. The Cupcake Company features a different cupcake of the week that customers can walk in and purchase for $1. They also make gluten free, dairy free, egg free and vegan options, along with puppy cakes, which are edible treats for dogs.
“Most of the time when we come up with something new it’s because our customers have asked us about it,” Brown said. “We have a lot of animal lovers in the valley and as soon as they found out we were selling puppy cakes, we go through those each week.”
Many customers come for the original cherry cheesecake, sweet cookies and cream and chocolate chip cookie cupcakes. Each season most cupcakes remain the same, but Brown and Cobbs are always looking for new flavors to come up with such as pumpkin chocolate chip for the fall. Cobbs credits Brown with teaching her everything she knows as baker.
“I was just a customer there and I was looking for a change,” Cobbs said. “I was able to kind of take a chance to do something different. I actually had no experience and I didn’t even really know I wanted to bake. We’ve grown so much and I’ve learned so much. It’s cool to work for someone local and not like a corporation. I realized it’s a passion of mine now.”
Brown mainly uses Facebook as a way to advertise and interact with her customers. Every Wednesday and Friday, one person in the Harrisonburg area wins a dozen cupcakes for their workplace, organization or personal event. On Sept. 5, Penny Mongold, a customer who has supported The Cupcake Company since they first opened, was the lucky winner.
“I was so excited to win and they do an amazing job,” Mongold said. “I think it’s a good way to promote their products. Whenever they come up with new flavors it’s always something good. Their stuff surpasses anything else. They make everything homemade and that has a whole different taste than anything store bought. I do believe in their cupcakes.”
The Cupcake Company grows in popularity each year. In the past, it’s been offered a spot on the Holiday Baking Championship on the Food Network and attracts many tourists traveling through the Harrisonburg area.
In 2015, Brown posted a photo of cupcakes decorated like kittens on the company’s Facebook page. A few days later, the post had gone viral with thousands of views. People from places like Canada and Germany were suddenly calling the bakery begging for shipments of cupcakes. The post now has 50,000 shares.
Because Brown values the quality of her cupcakes, she decided against adding shipping to their services. Though many customers ask whether she will expand and franchise in the future, Brown plans to stay local.
“I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we are,” Brown said. “As it is right now, we’re able to maintain the quality of our product. That’s more important to me than expanding and having other people working in our places that just don’t care about it as much as we do.”
Contact Traci Rasdorf at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.