If you’re the kind of gal who asks for baking gadgets for your birthday and obsesses over beautiful bundt cakes, you might want to consider a similar career path as Candace Nelson. The founder of the famous cupcake joint, Sprinkles, turned her passion for pastries (and more) into a successful full-time career. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Nelson about her latest venture in food and how she got her start with Sprinkles.
Meet the Food Pro: Candace Nelson
Before she became known as the cupcake queen for her delectable sweets, Nelson was a financial analyst at an investment bank and later worked at an internet company in business development. When the tech bubble burst in 2000, Nelson was out of a job and decided to go back to what she really loved — pastries. She started by running a custom-cake business from home, then pivoted to making elegantly designed cupcakes for others to enjoy.
Now the founder and former Cupcake Wars judge has pivoted her business once again to cater to a new food category — pizza. She recently opened a new eatery in Los Angeles, called Pizzana, that elevates the classic tomato and cheese pie by sourcing traditional ingredients from Italy and California’s farmers’ markets. Along with Pizzana partners, actor Chris O’Donnell, his wife Caroline, chef Daniele Uditi, and her husband Charles Nelson, Pizzana has been heralded as “to die for” by InStyle magazine and “old-school dedication to slow food” by Food & Wine. Below we talk with Nelson to get a slice of her status as pizza-making pro and what it took to get her here.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Candace Nelson: As soon as I wake up, I drink an entire glass of water for hydration and then a mug of coffee with almond milk in an attempt to bring my energy levels up to those of my 10-year-old and seven-year-old boys. I make breakfast, pack lunches, and then take them to school. Once the boys are dropped off, I always take a power walk with a girlfriend or do a strength training session with my trainer. After showering, I try to squeeze in a meditation before starting my day.
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
CN: Out of college, I worked as a financial analyst at an investment bank and then in business development at an internet company. It was the high flying, late ’90s when the dot-com boom was in full force. When the bottom dropped out of that world in 2000, I, along with so many, was out of a job. I decided to go back to school to pursue something I really loved, so I enrolled in pastry school and upon graduation, started a custom cake business out of my house. I loved making elaborate, multi-tiered decorative cakes, but yearned to create something that people could enjoy on a daily basis. I wanted to make an artful yet fuss-free dessert, and that’s what ultimately led me to the cupcake. At the time, cupcakes were still kid’s lunch box fare with shortening laden frosting and garishly colored, waxy sprinkles. The cupcake was in desperate need of reinvention. I set out to elevate the cupcake by using the same beautiful ingredients and artfulness I had previously applied to my cakes. If I could make cupcakes that were elegant, then maybe they could stand on their own! And that’s when I became obsessed with the idea of a cupcakes-only bakery, and Sprinkles was born.
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
CN: Innovation has been a constant theme throughout my time as an entrepreneur. Sprinkles was the first cupcakes-only bakery and the first cupcake ATM. At Pizzana, our new pizza restaurant in LA, we are reinventing traditional Neapolitan pizza for the California market. I believe innovation is the key to ongoing success, and I constantly keep an open mind for the next big idea.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
CN: My husband Charles has always been my partner in business. Many people can’t believe I work harmoniously with my husband, but we trust each other and love what we do. We both have different roles in the company, so it works! I also have an amazing group of female friends who are incredibly supportive. We show up to each others’ trunk shows, store openings, charity events, and film premieres. We fill each others’ inboxes and Instagram feeds with positive messages and keep up with each other through regular dinners and girls trips.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
CN: Write a set of guiding principles for your startup.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
CN: I work in hospitality, which is just a fancy way of saying that I take care of people. I love creating beautiful, welcoming places to make people happy through food.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
CN: Julia Child and Debbi Fields are personal heroes of mine. Both women were insanely passionate about their work and paved the way for future generations of females in the food world.
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
CN: Find your voice. Focus on what makes you different so that you can own your niche.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Pizzana restaurant photos via Amy Neunsinger; Candace Nelson and food photos via Dane Deaner)