Huffpost Marlo Thomas

A Reluctant Baker Makes Millions With Cupcakes

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MAUREEN
Maureen Jaret

One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about one woman who stayed far away from the kitchen, until she began creating stuffed cupcakes to bolster her business. When plans for her original venture went awry, she began baking cupcakes full-time, and wound up turning her weakness into a million-dollar success. -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com

By Lori Weiss

Like many women who grew up in the '60s, Maureen Jaret watched her mother flip open the familiar red plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, time and time again, to find a recipe she could whip up for the family. The instructions not only included what seasonings to use to spice up your pot roast, but additional tips on how to jazz things up at home -- reminding housewives to slap on a little lipstick before their husbands returned from work. It was a different time, but even then, as a young girl, Maureen was certain that the one place she didn’t belong was in the kitchen.

“My mother wanted me to be a secretary and marry the boss,” Maureen remembered with a smile. “I wanted to be the boss. I wanted to be the president or the first female astronaut -- so everyone was really concerned about what I was going to do when I got married -- how I was going to take care of a husband."

“But I had that all figured out. I was either going to marry a man wealthy enough to hire a chef or one who knew how to cook.”

And that’s exactly what Maureen set out to do. After spending her days as an executive recruiter, she’d go to her part-time job, as the hostess at a high-end restaurant -- hoping that maybe she could do a little recruiting of a different kind. And she did. Maureen spotted the man she’d ultimately marry -- Keith, the restaurant’s chef.

“I had a beautiful bridal shower and my friends gave me all these gadgets. I got this thing called a Cuisinart and I remember asking, ‘What is this?’ Keith, of course, was thrilled. And I got some great wine glasses. So we were both happy.”

It was a marriage made in heaven. Keith insisted on cooking, especially after the first time Maureen tried to make a pot roast. And Maureen was more than happy to clean-up, as long as she could limit how many utensils he used. Their teamwork worked so well, the couple decided to open a restaurant with Keith in the kitchen and Maureen running the business side of the business.

“The only thing I’d do in the kitchen,” Maureen said, “was make chocolate cake. I made a great chocolate cake from the time I was eleven, so I’d slap icing on it and we’d serve it as part of the meal. But I had this one customer who would have parties here, but order his desserts somewhere else. When I asked him why, he said he wanted a birthday cake and he wanted it to actually say 'Happy Birthday.' I offered to put a little plastic thing on top, but that wasn’t quite what he had in mind.”

Suddenly Maureen realized she was missing out on a possible revenue stream. So she did something she vowed she would never do -- she learned how to spice things up in the kitchen. Maureen put on some lipstick and signed up for a decorating class. What she didn’t realize was that she was about to design an entirely new career.

“I wanted all of our customers to see what I could do, and I thought if I just started making birthday cakes, only the people who came in for a celebration would see them. So I decided to make cupcakes for a Sunday brunch -- stuffed cupcakes -- chocolate cupcakes filled and overflowing with peanut butter mousse. And we brought them to every table for dessert. I said, ‘Look, I can decorate cakes now.’ And they all said, ‘Cake? What kind of cupcakes are you making tomorrow?’”

Suddenly customers were swinging by, not just to book a reservation at the restaurant, but hoping to pick up cupcakes, something Maureen hadn’t considered when she whipped up a few dozen to put out the word about her new skill.

“Our production manager kept saying, ‘They want cupcakes. They’re mad that there aren’t any cupcakes!’ And I kept saying, ‘Do you see how busy I am?’ So he suggested that his aunt could come in and bake them at night and I could stuff and ice them first thing in the morning. Before I knew it, there were cupcakes everywhere -- on every counter, on the Snapple machine -- trays and trays of cupcakes and I was covered in icing.”

With Keith’s culinary skill and Maureen’s business savvy, it wasn’t long before the restaurant had 31 stuffed flavors and they joked about being like Baskin Robbins. Despite the demand for their mousse-filled delights, the couple still saw themselves first as restaurateurs until their landlord closed the door.

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Stuffed Cupcakes Make Over $1 Million
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“They were selling the building,” Maureen explained, “and we had to find a new location, which we did, just down the street. And as were making plans to renovate, the town engineers came in and said, ‘You can’t build a restaurant here.’ No one had even considered that, including our new landlord, because there was a restaurant in the same building, right next door. But there were apartments above our spot, and nowhere for an exhaust fan. In the meantime, people were coming by and saying, ‘While you’re figuring this out, can we get some cupcakes?’”

So while Maureen and Keith didn’t have a location that would suit their restaurant, they did have a convection oven that didn’t require an exhaust. And they were up to 70 cupcake flavors.

The couple couldn’t ignore the icing on the wall. They had a loyal following of customers that any bakery would envy and those customers were crying out for cupcakes.

So on October 1st, 2008, Jaret’s Stuffed Cupcakes opened for business in Nutley, New Jersey, and as Maureen puts it, “They went from zero to a hundred on that very first day.” But she didn’t mean the cupcake customers lined up outside her front door. That first day, a local television crew cut the line and covered the opening, and it just so happened that a Manhattan mother of the bride was watching. Her daughter’s wedding was 10 days away, at the legendary Rainbow Room, and she was bound and determined to find the very best cupcakes in the country.

“Her event planner,” Maureen recalled, “was planning a cupcake tasting later that day and she got in her car and drove to New Jersey so they could try ours. He was bringing samples from the most interesting places in Manhattan, so he couldn’t understand why she was going all the way to New Jersey -- until he tasted them. The next day I got a call from his assistant who said, ‘Do you know who David Tutera is?’”

Tutera creates events for celebrities like Barbara Walters and The Rolling Stones and now he wanted Maureen’s cupcakes to be part of the extraordinary wedding he was planning. And with a David Tutera wedding in your apron pocket, you pretty much become the belle of the ball -- or at least a darling on the wedding circuit. Suddenly, Jaret’s Stuffed Cupcakes were being invited to three weddings every weekend.

Four years later, Maureen and Keith have taken what was supposed to be an extra stream of revenue and turned it into a business that brought in more than a million dollars last year. They now have 167 flavors, they’ve just opened their second New Jersey bakery and are now shipping their stuffed cupcake love throughout the country. Their next step is to open stores up and down the Eastern seaboard.

“I admit,” Maureen laughed, “it’s kind of ironic that the woman who didn’t even want to set foot in a kitchen has become known for baking cupcakes, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I was watching Tony Bennett the other day and he was singing "The Best Is Yet To Come" and I felt like that’s my theme song. At 52, I feel like I’m just beginning.”


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