Founded in 2007, Trophy Cupcakes has become a Seattle staple. Known for some of the best tasting cupcakes in America (no joke!!), they’ve built a brand around quality ingredients and an uncanny ability to package joy. Trophy’s founder, Jennifer Shea, is a total inspiration- she’s a talented baker and an admirable business woman. We sat down with Jennifer to chat all things Trophy- from the iconic shop’s beginning to her brand new book, Trophy Cupcakes & Parties! We think you’ll love her story:
Tell us about where you began. What inspired Trophy Cupcakes? Was there an exact moment, or was it a long time coming?
Crafting and party throwing has always been a part of me. My mom is one very talented and crafty lady and she was always encouraging my love for baking and the arts. I ended up getting my degree in Nutrition, ironically, and although I enjoyed it, I felt I was lacking a certain passion. After a postgraduate trip to NYC, I stumbled upon my first cupcake shop and it clicked- this is what I want to pursue as a career. Ten years later, the first Trophy shop opened in 2007 and much to my surprise was met with immediate fanfare!
We’re not surprised- Trophy is fabulous! What was your most memorable professional moment?
I’ve been fortunate to have crossed off so many amazing career markers in such a short period of time. Like I said, Trophy was an instant hit and after only a couple of months after opening shop, we were featured in Vanity Fair, Sunset Magazine, and even invited to appear on The Martha Stewart Show. Although, flying to New York and being on set with Martha Stewart herself was a huge pinch-me moment and dream come true, having the opportunity to put out my first book, Trophy Cupcakes & Parties! has been the icing on the cupcake!
Love Martha, but your book IS amazing! What was the best piece of advice you received along the way?
After my first cupcake experience in NYC, it actually took 10 years for me to build a business plan and successfully open the first shop. I took the time to learn as much about my customer, profit margin, finances and how to break even as I could. Starting a business isn’t easy and the best advice I could have received was to get in the mindspace of an entrepreneur and business owner from the very beginning.
A Trophy Cupcake shop is almost iconic. From the striped awnings to the product displays, every shop is beautifully cohesive with your brand. What inspired the design of your stores?
The shops are inspired by my personal decorating style for entertaining and by the things I love. The aqua blue came from the vintage Franciscan dishes I collect, and the striped awnings from the many patisseries in Europe that I visited while touring (yes, with a rock band…see below!). My goal was to design colorful, fun and chic spaces that would make people smile when they come to visit. I also wanted it to be an exciting environment to work in- after all, we’re in the business of making every day a party!
Your new book, Trophy Cupcakes & Parties!, is amazing. What was the publishing process like?
Writing a book was definitely a huge learning process. I had to learn to take a step back and ask for help. I’ve always been the type to want to execute everything myself but with a project this involved, I needed creative people around me to bounce ideas off of and experts to help me live out my vision and I’m so glad I didn’t do it alone. It’s been a fun ride celebrating the release of the book at signings around the country and I’m thrilled to announce that Trophy Cupcakes & Parties! will be in a Williams-Sonoma near you come Spring!
Congratulations!! What was your number one priority when it came to the book?
My goal was to make it more than just a cupcake cookbook. I broke down each chapter into a full party how-to. Inspired by specific cupcake recipes, each chapter is filled with unique themes, fun DIY projects, entertaining ideas and party tips. People always ask me if the recipes shared in the book are the same ones we follow in the shops and the answer is YES. I wanted to really make this book a manual for Trophy fans, bakers and party-makers alike!
From a Parisian-inspired girls’ day to a Rock n’ Roll bash for the kiddos, there’s something for everyone. We’re curious… which party was your favorite to create?
I love Rock ’n roll, so, I have to say that the Rock ‘n Roll Party is one of my favorites. Music has played a big role in the success of Trophy. Just after graduating from college, I actually went out on tour with my boyfriend at the time who was a band member. I spent a lot of time on the road where I ended up making good friends with another band member who happened to be a part of an up and coming group… called the Foo Fighters! He was looking to start investing and pushed me to pursue opening up my own cupcake business! That experience played it a huge roll my decision to chase my dream so I’ll always stay true to my rock n’ roll roots. My husband is also a musician and my son even picked this party theme for his birthday this year – it runs in the family!
What an amazing beginning… and we have to say, the Rock n’ Roll Party is a Rue favorite as well! So, what does a typical day look like for Trophy?
It starts early early in the bakery – before the sun comes up, making batters and mixing buttercreams. We make all of our cupcakes in the same bakery to ensure consistency across all six locations and they’re on the trucks being delivered to each shop before most people’s alarms clocks go off. In the shops, we’re piping perfect swirls of buttercream on hundreds of cupcakes and working on custom orders for tons of birthdays, baby showers and just about any celebration you can think of…everything from Hello Kitty for 1st birthdays, to glittery wedding creations with gold dust, to Catching Fire cupcakes for movie premiers. I spend the day making sure everything is perfect and tasting cupcakes, quality control is a tough job, but someone has to do it! When I get home, I make it a priority to spend quality time with my son and to turn off all cupcake chatter with my husband, who is also my business partner, before dinner!
If you ever need another group of taste-testers, you know who to call! Okay, we have to ask. How do Trophy Cupcakes taste SO good?
Our cupcakes are really just a vehicle for joy…so we make sure they’re made with joy and that they’re suuuuper delicious. In all of our shops and amongst the team of bakers, we live by the saying that “good isn’t good enough”. We’re a bunch of type-A perfectionists that get our joy out of doing everything we can to bake exceptional cupcakes. That means using some of the very best ingredients- the bakery never goes without pantry staples like French cocoa, local butter and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. Exceptional baking is an art, a science, and a philosophy. We’re constantly testing recipes and pushing ourselves to create delicious masterpieces, choc full of as much joy as we can fit in.
A little known fact about yourself?
I was born on Christmas day. Some of my friends speculate that my obsession with party planning came from rarely having childhood birthday parties that didn’t include a Christmas cake or birthday gifts wrapped in Santa paper. I eventually took it upon myself to plan my own parties and always chose a fantastical theme to try to upstage Christmas- which is hard to do! For my 40th, a group of friends and I went to Hawaii and celebrated on the beach with not a sign of Christmas in sight. It was beyond lovely. Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Christmas…and the best thing about my birthday?…I never have to help with the dishes after those big holiday meals!
For our young readers, what advice would you offer for finding their own “Dream Job?”
It comes down to following something you’re truly passionate about and putting 1000% into making it happen. I firmly believe that if I wasn’t obsessed with baking the perfect cupcake, Trophy wouldn’t be as successful as it is today. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and have follow your gut. After all, if I hadn’t gone on tour to sell t-shirts with a rock band (despite my mother’s disapproval), I wouldn’t have met my angel investor. That brings me to my next piece of advice: network! Once you determine your dream job, find a mentor and immerse yourself in the community. Being around other entrepreneurs and like-minded creatives will only help you flourish in your dreams.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves… and just might be taking a few of those tips to heart in the Rue office. Thank you, Jennifer!!