Karande first heard about the Molly’s Cupcakes concept from her friend, John Nicolaides, the co-founder of the Chicago-based brand, several years ago when she had her own catering business in San Francisco.
“If I wanted to open a bakery of my own, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel necessarily,” she said. “I wanted something where I could take an existing concept that was phenomenal and then be able to add and contribute to it to make it an exceptional product, an exception place.”
Karande’s spin on the brand was the decision to bake the cupcakes in small batches every day and throughout the day off-site at a 3,000-square-foot production kitchen in Blue Ash. The finished product then gets delivered fresh to the Liberty Center storefront at 7120 Haskell St. in Liberty Twp.
“It’s almost like a pilot concept for us because we get to test out shipping from there because we want to move into e-commerce soon, and we get to test out new products,” she said.
The Liberty Center location employs between 10 and 12 people and the Blue Ash location is staffed by 12 employees, Karande said.
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The name of the business is a tribute to Nicolaides’ third-grade teacher, Miss Molly, who baked cupcakes and brought them to class whenever a student has a birthday.
“I still remember how good they were,” he said on the company’s website. “She had her own special recipe for chocolate and vanilla. Just about everyone who tries them thinks they’re the best cupcakes ever.”
The shop, which employs classroom chairs and stools from the 1960s to go along with its classroom motif, also offers swings patrons can use for seating while eating their treats.
Besides Liberty Twp, Molly’s Cupcakes has three locations in Chicago with a fourth on the way, plus one each in New York City and Iowa City. It has racked up numerous accolades, including winning a season of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and earning a spot on USA Today’s “10 Best Cupcake Bakeries in the Country.”
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The popularity of the new business is a result of a retail market increasingly focused on personalization, according to Anita Karande’s husband, Jaydev, the shop’s “cupcake concierge.”
“People want that control of being able to have something that they can feel like it’s theirs,” he said, pointing out how customers often collaborate or compete on who can create the most Instagram-worthy dessert. “This is not just a cupcake, this is just literally a social bonding experience. The medium just happens to be a cupcake.
“Never do we think that we’re in the cupcake business. We’re in the happiness business.”