Q&A with Christy Milligan 

click to enlarge BRIAN CHILSON

After spending an afternoon in the kitchen with Christy Milligan, who owns Cupcakes on Kavanaugh and Cupcakes on The Ridge, I realized that behind her moist, decadently iced cupcakes is an experimental chemist. Milligan shared with me the trials and triumphs of turning her family's old cake recipes into cupcakes, baking with Guinness beer and the joys of vanilla.

Where did you get the inspiration to own a cupcake bakery?

I've always been a huge baker. My grandmothers, my great-grandmothers and my mother all from-scratch baked. My [father's mother], you walked into her house any day and there were at least two pies, usually a chocolate cake and some kind of cookie.

I majored in dietetics and food nutrition in college — I love the idea that I have a food nutrition background, though I did have someone walk in one time and ask me how I felt about contributing to America's obesity. I said, "You know, I'm a huge advocate of portion control and I think a cupcake is a perfect portion." I'd never advise someone to eat a dozen of them — and I've always been a foodie. My husband's always been the cook, and I'm the baker. I was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and doing cooking demonstrations for Taste of Home magazine. There was a cupcake bakery there that we loved. But the cupcakes never really tasted like they were from scratch. But it always looked like such a fun idea. So I'd always go home and bake for the neighborhood and make everybody cupcakes and my friends would say, 'You should open your own cupcake bakery.'

How'd you get your business started?

When my son was six months old I started writing the business plan. I'd been testing recipes for several years and people had been giving me feedback. I got lucky because my husband is in construction, my sister-in-law was an accountant and my brother-in-law is a banker.

I had been sketching in a book — I still have the book — what my logo would be, sketches of a little table and chairs, a picture on the wall. And that's what it looks like today. It was designed on a dime. My husband built every bit of it. I painted the canvases because I needed cheap wall art.

What kind of cupcakes do you sell?

We've got our classics that we do every day — the Classic Vanilla, which is vanilla cake with vanilla icing; Vanilla Chocolate, which is vanilla cake with chocolate icing; our Ghirardelli Squares, made with Ghirardelli chocolate; our Black Tie, which is chocolate [cake] with vanilla butter cream, and we threw in Red Velvet because it was extremely popular. We have our Baker's Choice, which [recently was] a Peanut Butter Fluff, which is chocolate cake with a marshmallow filling and a marshmallow butter cream icing drizzled with peanut butter and chocolate. We also have an Oatmeal Cream Pie, based on my grandmother's recipe; it was her favorite cake.

Are cupcakes just for kids?

It's funny — most of our customers are professional people. When I was doing my business plan my demographic was age 2 to 102. An adult with a little more mature palate is going to appreciate what we have more. My four-and-a-half year-old can probably just stick anything in his mouth and if it's sweet he's going to love it. So I think for $2.95 each, it's a gourmet dessert. You can get a variety, because you know it takes enough time at your house to bake one. We have business people that come in here and get eight different flavors and take them to the office for adult birthdays. We also do bridal showers, weddings and groom's cakes.


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