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Cupcake Royale founder serves up community sweets—and boosts business via Foster’s Executive Education
It takes a neighborhood to raise a cupcake business. That’s the way Jody Hall (Executive Development Program 2010) sees it. Hall is founder and owner of Cupcake Royale, the Seattle region’s innovative cupcake bakery and coffee house.
For Hall, it wasn’t enough to offer customers great coffee and delightful cupcakes. Her entrepreneurial desire was to also create a business where neighbors would come together to cook up ideas, learn something new and inspire each other in conversations about the arts, society and politics.
“The heritage of a coffee house is the penny university,” she said of her inspiration. “You got this penny, you get a cup of coffee in this gathering place and you talk with the business merchants, artists, poets, musicians and get an education about what is going on in your society.”
From Starbucks to cupcake start-up
Cupcake Royale wears its style of business with charm. Slogans such as “Ask me about my cupcakes” and “Legalize frostitution” (also the company blog name) are common. It’s run by an entrepreneur whose professional marketing and branding experience stemmed from a part-time barista gig at Starbucks in 1989 that led to a position in marketing when Starbucks revolutionized how Americans drink coffee.
That combination of coffee, specialty cupcakes and community has been a big success.
The first Cupcake Royale opened in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle in 2003. In 2010, Hall opened her fifth location in Bellevue. Cupcakes range from the Classic, Red Velvet and Salted Caramel to monthly specials such as Bacon Whiskey Maple and Deathcake Royale.
“When people come in and look at that cupcake case, from one to 91 years old, they just flap their arms and are like (dramatic gasp). Little kids almost launch they are so excited,” she said.
Locally grown, locally sourced
When Hall launched Cupcake Royale, you’d have to trek to New York to find a cupcake of substance, let alone one crafted with high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients. “We can tell you with every bag flour, this is from farmer Fred and this is from farmer Carl. We know these guys and have driven their combines. We know about the wheat,” she said.
However, the reality of business is that any store as successful as Cupcake Royale will attract voracious competitors. “Everybody sells cupcakes now,” she said, “not to mention the other cupcake bakeries that are opening up at a pretty hefty clip around here.”
While Hall built a successful foundation for her business, she felt that to grow and succeed in this new competitive landscape she needed to bolster her understanding of finance, operations, management and leadership.
Foster and the competitive edge
To give herself that advantage and engage in the kinds of high-level conversations about strategy and marketing she had when she worked at Starbucks and REI, Hall enrolled in the UW Foster School of Business Executive Development Program (EDP). The nine-month, part-time Foster executive education program helps busy senior managers, executives and other professionals explore each facet of business from an executive’s top-level view.
“I wanted to sharpen my own skills and validate them, and EDP was great,” she said. “After every class I literally would download with my managers: Here’s what I learned and how I think we can apply that to what we are doing here.”
What’s next for Cupcake Royale and Jody Hall?
Hall is building a strong three-year plan that takes the new fierce cupcake competition into account. “One of my strategies has come directly out of the EDP class.”