JavaCupcake Note: This is the first post in a series titled, “Ask the Baker” featuring interviews with bakers and bakery owners! I met Kari in August of 2009 when my husband and I went on a little vacation to Vegas! Her bakery is charming and her cupcakes are divine! Thank you Kari for doing this interview!!
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about what you do in the cupcake world and how/when you got started.
Kari Haskell, Owner and Head of Cupcakes at Retro Bakery in Las Vegas!!!
I am a home-baker gone pro. I have no schooling, just over 20 years of practice. I was a stay-at-home mom for 9 years, then decided to open up Retro two years ago when they were building a new building down the street from my house (GREAT COMMUTE!!). Retro is on the outskirts of Las Vegas (a $150 round-trip cab ride from The Strip), but it’s quickly becoming a MUST-EAT Vegas destination, which is exactly the success I wanted. I don’t want to rule the cupcake world. I just want to be Vegas’ BEST BUTTERCREAM.
Retro is ALL over the internet so you can DROOL while you book your ticket to Vegas to come VISIT US!!
OH YEAH: follow my insanity about building a bakery on a weekly basis from start to finish at my personal blog: http://www.buildingabakery.blogspot.com
Bakery Start-Up Questions
What was the biggest challenge in starting your bakery/baking business?
A menu. Our original plan was to be an EVERYTHING bakery: pies, cookies, cupcakes, cakes…BUT, then I realized that it’s just TWO OF US doing the baking and runnin’ the place. We had to scale DOWN to be able to manage baking all day, helping customers, folding boxes, doing dishes, cleaning messes, watching LUCY (our daughter) doing the bookkeeping, etc… (there’s MUCH more than baking involved with running a BAKERY).
Any business tips you can share that has made your bakery a success?
INTERNET: KNOW IT, USE IT. Don’t be afraid.
How much time did you spend planning before you decided to take the steps to make your bakery a reality?
Three months…I’m a GO GETTER! :) Remember, I was a stay-at-home mom, so I had HOURS to think about it all day…while changing diapers…and picking my other kid up from school.
How much time does it take to run your business? More or less than you anticipated?
You can’t even IMAGINE how time FLIES after you open. You BLINK and you’ve worked 10 hours. I average about 90 hours a week (and that DOES NOT include internet time or menu changes, or test baking…). I also only have ONE DAY OFF per week (and even THAT day is spent talking about Retro…)
What type of tools, gadgets, and gizmos are necessary for fantastic cupcake production?
Too many to write…BUT, the main one is an ice cream scoop. It is my best friend. It makes scooping batter WAY easy and consistent. Oh yeah: a PIPING BAG for frosting cupcakes. :)
Recipe/Ingredients & Baking Questions
What do you consider to be the perfect cupcake? What flavors and textures would it have?
I love Vanilla/Vanilla. I’m a purest. BUT, I do tend to love wacky flavors like PB&J. I’ll take vanilla over chocolate every time.
How many times do you have to “re-do” a recipe before you get it right?
I baked every day, twice a day one I decided we were opening…STILL didn’t have it right. Honestly, we didn’t REALLY have it right until about two months after we opened because commercial baking vs. HOME baking is like NIGHT and DAY.
What is your favorite cupcake recipe?
Cinnamon Toast: vanilla cake topped with cinnamon buttercream and dusted with cinnamon and sugar (my favorite cupcake of ALL TIME)
How much is made from scratch and how much is purchased pre-made?
What is the recipe for a foolproof cupcake batter? Just a perfect basic recipe that can be doctored with extras to suit any taste.
Yes. EXACTLY that last sentence.
Where do you purchase all those fun different sprinkles you use to decorate your cupcakes with?
How do you get your cupcakes all the same size?
Ice cream scoop and LOTS of practice. Sometimes they’re small…sometimes they’re HUGE…depends on my mood. ;)
Do you have a Vegan Chocolate cupcake recipe?
ALL of our chocolate cake is Vegan. It’s a little-known fact…it’s FABULOUS, and no one knows…
I love buttercream… what’s your favorite recipe for it?
NO WAY, JOSE.
How do you make the icing just the right sweetness?
Practice…and EATING that practice
How do you get great control of a pastry bag and make those mile high swirls of perfection on top of each cupcake?
THAT is an actual talent. It’s about squeezing and swirlin’ at the same time.
Did you always have a passion for baking?
YES. No one else baked in my immediate family, so whenever dessert was needed, I just stepped in. Pies were my first baking LOVE…cookies and cake quickly followed.
What inspires you the most? Love of cupcakes or love of making things people enjoy?
PEOPLE. I LOVE to see them smile after they take a bite…it keeps me going “What will they like NEXT??”
Where do you get new ideas for new cupcake and icing flavors?
Everywhere…grocery stores are the BEST. Each section is FULL of ideas for the next cupcake flavor
How do you come up with new, creative ideas for decorating cupcakes?
I don’t…I’m lazy that way. I’m all about the TASTE instead of the DESIGN
With the internet and easy availability of so many recipes and decorating ideas, how do you come up with new and unique recipes that someone else hasn’t already done?
I just don’t look. I am SURE that everyone has done my stuff SOMEWHERE…but, I just try to think of stuff that I think no one else has…usually someone ELSE tells me that it’s available at another shop. OOPS.
What’s your favorite part of cupcakes?
How can you be around all that yummy and not eat it all up?
I eat it ALL DAY…in small amounts…and usually don’t eat anything else.
Would you bake me a cupcake that wouldn’t make me gain any weight please?
Just walk in place while eating it. It cancels out the calories.
Do you ever get tired of the site or smell of cupcakes?
I can’t smell them anymore. I’m around baking SO MUCH, I can’t smell cake. It’s very sad. People come in and say, “OH!! It smells SO GOOD in here!” I can’t smell it at ALL.
Can I live in your kitchen and be your personal taste tester?
YES, but you’d have to fight my 4 yr old for the position.