While her path to Kara’s Cupcakes might not seem straightforward, in many ways growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gave Kara Haspel Lind an appreciation for the principles that she later incorporated into her business.
“Pittsburgh is very ethnic. Our family is Italian, Serbian, and German. It’s a very familial environment. My grandmother is 93 and 100% Italian. We all got together for Sunday suppers. Even if we were mad at each other minutes before, we came together to eat no matter what. In fact, every night of the week there was a home-cooked meal on the table in our home.”
Kara’s father is a dentist, and she had cavities as a child, so though she wanted something sweet at the end of a meal, he didn’t approve. “I was drawn to sweets, especially colorful ones, as a child. I’d hide them, but my father inevitably found them. To this day, I have to have something sweet to finish a meal.”
In love with all things beautiful, Kara’s was attracted to the fields of design, fashion, and architecture. She worked for Beauty Magazine (a Condé Nast publication), and it was while she was there that she had the idea to merge her love of sweets with fashion and design. She enrolled in a nights-and-weekend course at the renowned Tante Marie’s Cooking School.
When she was ready to make the leap, Kara began a small catering company out of rented space in a commercial kitchen, providing cupcakes to weddings and baby showers. In 2006 she opened her own bakery.
Since then she has invested back into the business, growing to ten Bay Area locations, while staying true to her company’s mission and vision. “I believe that setting the intention for the company is vital, because everything else is built out of it.”
“Everything we touch is about creating a celebratory moment, because for me it goes back to the connection of food and love from my childhood and my family. I just keep doing what I know.”
In early 2014, Kara experienced what she calls a “business moment,” when she saw that the cupcake category, in which she had once been the strongest player, was now full of competitors. “You have to keep reinventing. Life is changing and you have to move along, be able to turn the corner into new territory.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, she knew that to keep her business successful she would need to pivot, and the pivot point was a logical one.
“We have all these fabulous ingredients we have developed in our kitchen to use in our cakes and cupcakes. There was demand for them from our customers, so we decided to respond to that demand. It was a challenge. We spent months perfecting everything and recalculating our costs before we could put these products on the shelves for sale.”
Her cupcake shops gave Kara a built-in tasting panel. “I can see what people like, and those things became the inspiration for our retail items. For instance, people love the caramel in the fleur de sel, so we are now selling our caramel sauce as well as caramel corn made with it. We sell the marshmallows we make for our s’mores cupcakes, and a mix for our well-loved hot cocoa.”
“I’m really excited about our retail products. It feels like giving birth to a whole new, wonderful thing!”