Founded in 2010 by sisters and Brooklyn natives Carmen Rodriguez and Gina Madera, Brooklyn Cupcake is a business rooted in identity - that of family, culture and community.
Between customer-made artwork displayed on the walls and the sugary fragrance of cupcakes cooling behind the counter, those who stop by for a bite are bound to be reminded of home.
“We were raised in this community,” said Rodriguez, who grew up in a building a few blocks from her shop. “And we get to open up in a neighborhood that watched us grow up.”
The seeds for what would become a thriving cupcake shop were sewn long before the charming storefront on Union Avenue opened its doors. Rodriguez always loved to bake. As she raised a family, the activity became a time to bond with the kids.
Rodriguez took note of the recent “cupcake craze.” Unimpressed by the hype for some places or the selection of flavors at others, she began to experiment at home with cupcakes inspired by tastes from her dual Italian and Puerto Rican heritages.
In the meantime, Rodriguez developed a reputation as an incredible baker at work. She would often bring in homemade desserts to celebrate birthdays and company events.
When she found herself at a crossroads after a big layoff at her job, people began to call her to provide baked goods for intimate parties.
The next thing she knew, a church placed an order with Rodriguez for 1,500 cupcakes for a Christmas celebration. She wasn’t sure if it was possible to complete the request, but family and friends offered up their refrigerators and other materials in order to get the job done.
When the church called back with a New Year’s order of the same volume, Rodriguez approached her sister, who helped her bake, about starting a business. Madera loved the idea.
“Here we are two kids from Brooklyn, and we have this dream,” recalled Rodriguez.
With family contributions and the work of generous contractors found through their father, Rodriguez and Madera were able to launch Brooklyn Cupcake.
Soon after opening, the business was featured twice by the Food Network on the shows “Cupcake Wars” and “Cooking in America” with Sunny Anderson. The growing media attention increased the shop’s popularity, as well as the need for additional financing.
“For me honestly, finding OnDeck was another blessing,” said Rodriguez, who has been working with OnDeck for three years now after several unsuccessful attempts to get loans from her bank.
OnDeck is an online lender that offers a wide range of financial support to small businesses. Since its creation in 2006, the company has provided customers across the U.S., Canada and Australia with more than $12 billion in loans.
With a loan and a line of credit, Brooklyn Cupcake was able to utilize OnDeck as a crucial tool for expansion.
“That gives us the working capital we need to get through slow times and to get equipment when we need it,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s also given us the opportunity to take advantage of pop-up locations.”
Showcasing rare cupcake flavors such as Tres Leches, Coquito, Tiramisu and Rainbow Cookie, Brooklyn Cupcake is truly a reflection of the sisters themselves and what it took to accomplish their goals.
Through their business, Rodriguez and Madera are sustaining a cycle of uplifting, from within, the community that nurtured and supported them from the beginning.
“I get people that walked in here as brides and grooms and today we’re celebrating their children’s birthdays,” Rodriguez reminisced while sharing stories of customers, from a mother of two Autistic children to a cancer patient who suffered loss of taste during chemo treatment.
“You think you’re going to go into this and get rich, but you wind up getting to know your people and your community,” she continued. “Then being rich isn’t as important.”
That is what makes the journey of Brooklyn Cupcake worth it nearly ten years later, despite the inevitable challenges that come along with running a small business.
“It’s all about the people, not only the customers but also the employees,” Rodriguez explained. “And I say employees, but the truth of the matter is it’s my sister. My baker is our best friend who grew up with us. I get to see my daughter’s face every day. All those things, you can’t trade that.”
The rest is just icing on the (cup)cake.