In Dialogue: Sprinkles Co
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In Dialogue: Sprinkles Co

Sep 02, 2023

UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 11: TV Personality / Chef Candace Nelson visits Hallmark ... [+] Channel's "Home & Family" at Universal Studios Hollywood on December 11, 2019 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

I recently spoke with Sprinkles Co-Founder, celebrity chef, producer, and host of Netflix’s Sugar Rush and Food Network’s Cupcake Wars Candace Nelson. You can read part one of the interview here, where Nelson explains how following her passion, embracing authenticity, and a meticulous attention to detail fueled the success of her businesses. In our continued discussion, Nelson talks about the importance of always innovating, embracing creativity without limits, pushing the status quo, and building a culture that encourages continuous learning.

Elting: Part of what defined your brand was your original approach to what a bake shop looked like, including business innovations like the world’s first cupcake ATM. How did you incorporate new, creative ideas like that into your business? And what recommendations would you make for those looking to evolve their own industries through unconventional ideas and innovation?

Nelson: When we initially launched our luxury cupcake bakery, we faced nothing but skepticism. Nevertheless, we remained unwavering in our belief and pursued our unique vision. To our amazement, Sprinkles quickly disrupted the traditional baking landscape, igniting a nationwide cupcake craze. While enjoying the advantage of being a first mover, we were well aware that competition would inevitably arise. It became evident that each new competitive advantage we developed could be imitated. We recognized that our ability to consistently innovate would be the key to setting ourselves apart from the rest.

Innovation, to us, meant seeing the world without rules and embracing the concept of "what if." It was about pushing boundaries and asking ourselves bold questions. For example, we pondered, "What if you could satisfy your cupcake craving any time, day or night?" This mindset propelled us to create the groundbreaking concept of the cupcake ATM—an innovation that not only solidified our brand's identity but also established a distinct differentiation from our competitors.

To those seeking to evolve their own industries through unconventional ideas and innovation, I would offer the following recommendations. Embrace a mindset of limitless possibility and challenge traditional assumptions and conventional wisdom. Allow yourself to think beyond established rules and norms. Look for opportunities to disrupt the status quo. Foster a culture of creativity and experimentation and encourage your team members to share their ideas and perspectives. Create an environment where risk-taking is encouraged and failures are seen as stepping stones to success. And embrace continuous learning because innovation is an ongoing process. Encourage a mindset of constant improvement and learning. Stay curious, seek out new knowledge, and invest in personal and professional development.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 25: Candace Nelson attends the Visionary Women: Female Founders ... [+] Salon 2023 on January 25, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Visionary Women)

Elting: Can you talk about how you leveraged your brand to launch a career in television? Was that a natural evolution for you? Were there unexpected challenges along the way?

Nelson: Personal brand wasn’t the buzz word back in 2005 that it is now. And it was certainly the last thing on my mind. I was just trying to bake enough cupcakes for the line out the door. But one day a TV producer came calling. She had been driving down Little Santa Monica Boulevard, where Sprinkles is and noticed the line out the door, then a block later she noticed that a new cupcake shop had opened up and she muttered to herself, “It’s a goddamn cupcake war out there.” Inspiration struck. She took the name Cupcake Wars to the Food Network who bought the show and wanted me, the “queen of cupcakes” to be the judge.

I was hesitant. I felt guilty taking that time to film when there was so much I needed to do in the business. Ultimately, I gave it a chance and I’m so glad I did. The show became a hit, syndicated around the world. We filmed over 100 episodes, and I discovered the power of stepping into my personal brand.

Elting: What motivated you to pivot from cupcakes to Pizza? Was there a specific opening or gap in the pizza industry you were looking to fill?

Nelson: After disrupting the legacy bakery business, I decided to take on another beloved classic: pizza. As a mom, I was desperate for a restaurant to take my young family where we could eat incredible food in a casual setting. Someplace elevated, yet accessible, where the whole family would be happy. I met Daniele Uditi, master pizzaiolo and Pizzana partner, at a party he was catering. We connected over our love of great food and hatched a plan to open a restaurant dedicated to his world-class pies. The idea was to offer an exquisite product and create a special gathering place where visitors would be transported to Italy with every bite. We sourced the perfect ingredients—setting up a private plot in the Naples countryside to grow San Marzano tomatoes and pinpointing the ideal low-moisture fior di latte to ship weekly from Italy. We worked with chef Daniele Uditi to perfect his signature “slow dough,” capturing the characteristic char and chew of traditional Neapolitan pizza while offering the sturdiness of an American pick-up slice. We eschewed the typical red checkered cloth pizza joint aesthetic to design a chic space. After opening, Bill Addison of the Los Angeles Times credited Pizzana with ushering in Los Angeles’ "current golden age of pizza." In other words, we found success by once again focusing on the details, prioritizing the highest quality ingredients, and embracing authenticity over trends to do things our own way.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Special guest judge Candace Nelson and host/judge Gordon Ramsay in the Small ... [+] Dessert, Big Problems episode of MASTERCHEF airing Thursday, Aug. 1 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX Image Collection via Getty Images)

Elting: How have you continued to evolve your brand through new business ventures? What does your approach look like and how do you balance evolving with a sense of consistency and authenticity? Is it important to have a consistent throughline? What advice would you give for other entrepreneurs looking to evolve their businesses and brands?

Nelson: Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, my primary focus has been on pursuing joy and fostering connections. Food, for me, has always been a powerful catalyst for bringing people together, transcending generational, cultural, and ideological boundaries. Moreover, I find immense pleasure in surprising and delighting people by presenting familiar foods in unexpected and innovative ways.

When it comes to evolving my brand through new business ventures, my approach is guided by a sense of consistency and authenticity. While I embrace innovation and fresh ideas, I ensure that they align with my core values. There is a throughline that runs across all my ventures, reflecting my optimism and a deep-rooted belief in creating joy, fostering connections, and delivering delightful experiences through food.

Balancing evolution with consistency and authenticity is crucial. It retains customer trust and allows exploration of new creative interests. To my fellow entrepreneurs: never lose sight of your core values and purpose.

Elting: Can you tell us a little about your latest book, Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe For Turning Your Passion Into Profit?

Nelson: Sprinkles started as a small, magical idea that grew beyond my wildest dreams. This unexpected journey has motivated me to continue my entrepreneurial path and support others through mentoring, angel investing, and now, by sharing my experiences in Sweet Success.

With this book, my aim is to dismantle the barriers to entrepreneurship and empower the next generation of founders. I want to prove that entrepreneurship is not limited to a select few building rocket ships to the moon. I transformed a simple idea into a thriving business, and I hope my story inspires others to dream big and bet on themselves.

When I first started, I had zero knowledge about running a company, and I made every mistake imaginable. In this book, I share my insights and roadmap for success, hoping to pave the way for the next generation of change makers.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 11: TV Personality / Chef Candace Nelson visits Hallmark ... [+] Channel's "Home & Family" at Universal Studios Hollywood on December 11, 2019 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

Elting: Like me, you’re a big believer in pursuing your passion. Can you talk about why that’s so important and how readers can harness their passion through entrepreneurship?

Nelson: Passion is the fuel for the determination you need to see your idea to fruition. It’s so hard to start and grow a company. If you don’t have a fire in your belly, the inevitable obstacles you face might just overwhelm you. Also, passion is contagious. The more you embody it, the quicker you'll attract the right individuals—investors, team members, partners, and beyond—to help turn your vision into a reality.

Elting: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Nelson: The best advice I ever received is to build a strong support system. Whether in raising a child or starting a business, we are not meant to navigate life's journey alone. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive individuals at home and at work is essential. They become your village, offering guidance, encouragement, and a shoulder to lean on when needed.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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