A Cupcake Supreme

Taste Love Cupcakes opened a year ago on April 16 on a busy stretch of Main Street in downtown Royal Oak. At a time when it seemed like cupcakeries were populating storefronts faster than upscale BBQ joints it was hard to see what set Taste Love Cupcakes (TLC) apart from the rest.

That was a year ago. Now it's a little easier to see what separates this stylish cupcake bakery from their competition: a win on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars.

Michelle Brown's love of baking started in childhood. "I grew up in a home where my mother was always baking and cooking," she states. After eight years of practicing law Michelle became a stay-at-home mom. She started baking cupcakes as a hobby and found that people loved them. She then reconnected with her college friend and sorority sister Yolanda Baston, who started helping Michelle in the kitchen.

"It was something we both loved to do," Michelle states. "We both wanted to get out of the house and do something for ourselves and for our families."

When Michelle and Yolanda decided to open their own all-cupcake bakery, Royal Oak seemed like the ideal location - it certainly didn't hurt that there wasn't already one in that area - but another draw was the steady amount of foot traffic Royal Oak's vibrant downtown attracted.

"We think Royal Oak is a destination spot for people all over metro Detroit," Michelle explains. "It's a very walkable community. Every day people walk by and stop in for the first time; every day is an opportunity for us to get new customers who will return."

They chose the name Taste Love Cupcakes because they wanted something "really simple, classy and recognizable." "Taste" because taste is extremely important to them, even more that presentation ("Taste is what people really remember," Michelle notes); "love" is for all the love they put into their products and the fact that once you taste them you'll fall in love with them; "cupcakes" for reasons which should be pretty self-evident. Actually, it's all pretty self-evident.

They also place a red velvet heart on all of their cupcakes to represent the "L" in TLC - all except the vegan cupcakes. Which they have! "We do have a different vegan selection every day because we do want to have something for that section [of customers]."

For the rest of their competition-winning cupcakes they use all premium, natural ingredients - real butter, real cream, real buttermilk, fresh eggs, and no mixes or shortening. Additionally, Michelle says, "We really try to buy local for those ingredients whenever we can. We want to support the Michigan economy; without them we wouldn't be here right now."

Their top-selling flavor (and one of the Cupcake Wars winners) is the "The" Red Velvet. Their second highest-seller is their Sweet Potato cupcake, a flavor that is unique to them and is markedly different from the typical "pumpkin" and "spice" flavors you'll find in other bakeries. Some of their specialty cupcakes (which change daily) include a French toast and bacon cupcake, Key Lime Pie with a graham cracker crust, Chocolate Salted Caramel and Cookie Dough. (For severe sugar addicts, they also serve "frosting shots.") They use fresh fruits and rich, creamy mascarpone cheese (mild and custard-like) and they bake all of their cupcakes fresh every single day - they stay open until they sell out (so come early for the best selection) and whatever they don't sell they donate.

Now, as for this Cupcake Wars business: "Cupcake Wars is one of our favorite shows," Michelle says. "We both love the show and have been watching the Food Network from the beginning. Literally every day someone would come in and say, ‘You guys should really be on Cupcake Wars; you should try out!'" So last September, they did. As Michelle describes it, they basically sent the producers an email introducing themselves then got a call back requesting they submit an audition tape. The producers liked what they saw, and in the fall they filmed their winning episode which aired on April 22 - just in time to celebrate their one-year anniversary.

"We are very excited about the win," Michelle says. "We really wanted to represent Detroit in a positive light and get Detroit cupcakes on the map." Since the episode aired they have seen a tremendous increase in business. "It's been out of control!" Michelle exclaims. "It's been amazing, more than I even expected. We really appreciate the support of the community."

Photos One Through Four by David Lewinski Photography
Photos Five Through Seven Courtesy Taste Love Cupcake