Couple a delectable recipe at an accessible price with the Puerto Rican consumer’s love of sweets and it pretty much explains the success behind a cupcake business that suddenly seems to be all over the place.
Vanilla Bean Cupcakery has outlets in Guaynabo, Galería Paseos, and now in Condado, but it actually began modestly in the kitchen of a career interior designer eager to turn a dual passion for baking and design into her own business.
Nanette Córdova realized her ambition thanks to a winning recipe, courtesy of her mother. Vanilla Bean’s appeal is simple: a delicious treat that is easy on the wallet (from $2) and kind on the waistline (the cupcakes are small). The outlets are bright and appealing: pink walls, white display cases, sparkling chandeliers, and walls decorated with positive affirmations.
But even a successful formula takes time to build, said Córdova in describing the slow but methodical way she went about developing the business.
It all started in 2007 when, sensing that a market for cupcakes was beginning to open up locally, Córdova quit her designer’s job and took the leap of faith into full entrepreneurship. Working out of her kitchen, sometimes late into the night, she began turning out cupcakes. She sold them at bazaars and took orders that came in via word-of-mouth or Facebook.
When it reached the point that the house was overflowing with cupcakes, Córdova rented a space in Bayamón and continued building her customer base. The first outlet opened in 2012, thanks to a loan from Banco Popular, her only financing to date, she said. She choose a location in Guaynabo’s Torrimar urbanization that would place her close to her clients, many of whom lived in that area.
For her next outlet, she chose a cart in “a prime spot” at Galería Los Paseos in Cupey. Córdova considered getting a cart at Plaza las Américas but felt the mall’s rates were too high. The cart at Paseos is nicknamed BonBon and sells only 10 different flavors of her signature cupcakes, she said.The color scheme at Vanilla Bean Cupcakery stores reflects its owner’s love of pink. (Credit: Lorraine Blasor)
Taking a chance in Condado
And now, Condado. She chanced on the space because its previous tenant, a friend who ran Olivia Boutique, was moving next door and suggested she take it over. Córdova didn’t need much prodding. After all, this is an upscale neighborhood filled with tourists and students from Robinson and St. John’s schools.
While she demurred providing financial figures, Córdova said Vanilla Bean is doing well and sales have exceeded her expectations. One of her two children, son José Gabriel, is in charge of purchasing and operations.
The company’s daily production is around 2,000 cupcakes.
They are made using the finest ingredients and come in nearly two dozen flavors, of which the most popular are Bien Me Sabe, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Hazelnut and Red Velvet, she said.
“The first thing people cut when the economy isn’t good is food, but that has not happened (in her case), thank God,” she said, noting that orders for special events such as birthdays and weddings make up 20 percent of total sales.
Córdova doesn’t dismiss the idea of turning her company into a franchise operation but for now is concentrating on selling “a lot” of cupcakes. The company operates with a staff of 20 people, including five employees exclusively devoted to the production end.
Its sole publicity is word of mouth and Facebook, she said.
For entrepreneurs-to-be, Córdova had this advice: draw up a business plan, do things step by step, maintain a positive attitude.
“When you are developing a dream, you will go through difficult moments,” she said, noting that affirmations help her get through tough times, which is why she likes to put them up on the walls of her stores.
Don’t wait to get started.
“Jump into the fray, there will never be a perfect moment, it does not exist. If it’s not the state of the island, it’s another situation. There will always be something,” she said.
“Follow your passion.”