“When you look at a cupcake, you just want to smile,” says Sophie LaMontagne, who stars on TLC’s new show ‘DC Cupcakes’ (Friday, 10/9c) with her younger sister, Katherine Kallinis. After years doing the corporate grind, in 2008 the duo decided to trade in their suits for aprons and open a small Capitol Hill “cupcakery,” Georgetown Cupcake. It was a risk that paid off. Today, the shop boasts lines out the door with cupcake sales topping 5,000 a day. New York Times food critic Frank Bruni wrote of their confections,”I can’t say enough good things…these cupcakes beat Magnolia Bakery by miles and miles.”
The sisters took a moment from their hectic schedule to share their thoughts on the cupcake renaissance, the genesis of the series, and what they’d like to bake for President Obama.
How did this show come together? Did you approach TLC? Did they approach you?
Sophie: We had one of the executive producers come in as a customer. He just thought it was so crazy and chaotic, and he thought it would make a great show. I think TLC was looking for family bakeries. It’s really a typical family bakery. We’re two sisters, just sort of figuring it out. We quit our jobs, we haven’t had any formal pastry training. It was just kind of our dream, since we were little girls, ‘One day, we’re gonna have our own bakery together! How cool will that be?’ And we did it! It was scary, and in the show things don’t always go as planned. But we have a lot of fun [laughs].
Why have cupcakes been enjoying such a renaissance lately?
Sophie: A lot of it is because they’re so individual. It’s a treat just for you. You can go to a party and have multiple different flavors for everyone. You’re not just committing to one thing, everyone has their own special little favorite, and I think it’s a really personal nature of that cupcake. It’s fun to decorate things, you can be creative, and there are customers who – I think customers, and people in general, appreciate – people are more into doing more whimsical, crazy decorations on them than regular desserts.
What’s your best seller?
Katherine: Our best seller is the red velvet. But my personal favorite is caramel with peanut butter fudge and Sophie’s, from day one, has always been chocolate hazelnut. But people are willing to try crazy things, like Key Lime and things like that. It’s always neat to see what people order.
The Shop is Out of Red Velvet!:
What do you do with the ones that don’t sell?
Sophie: One of the things that makes people come is that we bake fresh throughout the day. We’re baking every hour, and we tweak our baking order depending how busy it is. We have a set order we generally follow each day of the week but because we bake throughout the day, everything’s fresh. At the end of the day, we go to a few local D.C. charities, us and our staff, and take leftovers. We don’t save anything overnight, and we start from scratch every single morning [laughs]. We come in the morning, and the place is completely cleaned.
How do you balance your personal and work life? Are either of you married?
Katherine: Sophie is married, I’m not. That’s the one thing that, when we started this, we thought it would be the easiest thing we’ve ever done but it turned out to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. We had to sacrifice a lot so our personal lives are very sad [laughs]. We’re very lucky because we love each other so much that we don’t mind hanging out with each other, even after work. Sophie and I live right near each other, we walk to work together. We’re very family-oriented.
Sophie: We always say having a bakery, or owning a bakery, is kind of like having a child. I don’t have kids yet, but you’re constantly worrying about it. It’s part of your life. It really consumes you. Part of the trade off is that you really do give up a part of your personal life. We’re not experts, we’re not perfect and this is real life, and we’re figuring things out as we go along.
Ever use a cupcake as a pick-up line?
Both: No! [laughs]
Katherine: I have a boyfriend, so I can’t do that [laughs]. But I’m sure – I’m pretty sure – a lot of people have done that. We’ve had proposals in our store, with our cupcakes, it’s been really, really cute. We’re in on it too, they’ll call us and say, ‘I need you to hold the ring and bring out a cupcake!’ It’s really cute, and they send us the pictures of their wedding. That’s one of the best things about running this shop, is that you get to be part of so many people’s personal experiences, the most important event of their life.
Are there any famous chefs you’d like to bake with?
Sophie: We met Buddy Valastro from ‘Cake Boss,’ and we think he’s super cool. And he tasted our cupcakes, he said they were “Buddy approved.” He’s really down to Earth, he’s a really great guy. We love watching the show and his family on TV because we have those kind of fights.
Do want Republicans and Dems have different taste in cupcakes?
Sophie: When you work in a cupcake shop, you would never expect to meet the people and get to see them A lot of Congressmen and Senators come in, and I don’t want to judge [laughs] but a lot of them, they’re very traditional. A lot of them get the chocolate and vanilla, or vanilla on top of the chocolate, they don’t like to stray too far from the traditional flavors.
Has President Obama come to your store?
Katherine: We’ve had people from the White House come and order cupcakes, and we’ve had some people say, “Oh, you have a lot of fans in the White House.” But he hasn’t physically come into our store. But if he does, we would be so excited.
What would you make for him?
Katherine: Oh, I think I heard they love hummingbird cake [bananas, pinapple and pecans (or sometimes walnuts) topped with a cream cheese frosting and pecans].
What’s the proper way to eat a cupcake?
Katherine: It’s really cool, because we have tables in our store, and people will sit down, and we get to see how different people eat their cupcakes. Some people eat it with a spoon, some people with a fork. Our staff likes to rip the bottom of the cupcake off, and put it on top of the frosting, and make like a cupcake sandwich. I just really like to just bite it [laughs].
Sophie: I just throw off the wrapper and just eat it as it is.
What are some crazy creations you’ve done?
Katherine: Yeah, in every episode, we do a piece of artwork out of cupcakes, so we do a lot of 3D sculptures of cupcakes, then we do a lot of 2D paintings on the cupcakes.
Sophie: On our second episode – which is going to air Friday night too – we’re going to do a 3D animal cupcake.
Katherine: I think it’s really cool people can see all the crazy things you can do with cupcakes. It’s not just having the standard one; you can create art out of them too. It’ll be neat for people to see that.
‘DC Cupcakes’ premieres back-to-back episodes Friday, July 16, at 10/9c on TLC.