A white van - The Cupcake Queens
"Drier than my sense of humour. Pretty cupcakes which tasted cheap and horrible and incredibly artificial. Would be better off going to Coles and baking some from a box." Hungry Little Dinosaur
"These cupcakes are to die for! I got 4 cupcakes the other day and am craving more now." Freddie
On my way back from somewhere - book group perhaps, I sat behind this van at some traffic lights. As I sat there it occurred to me that it has been a long time since I have built a post around a white van, which is why I took the not very wonderful photograph.
And as an aside, I wonder why I have not seen any interesting food related white vans for a very long time. I think I saw lots in my early years of the blog. Maybe I just don't notice things as much these days.
Full disclosure - I'm not really a fan of cupcakes - it's a passion that has passed me by and also a passion that I don't really understand. In my mind it's one of those Instagram kind of things - style above substance. Anyway what did I find out about The Cupcake Queens?
Well number one fact is that there is only one Cupcake Queen, the founder of the company - Monique Milenkovic, plus one cupcake king - her husband Jac. He's the finance side, she's the HR and, I suppose, the creative force. Was there ever another cupcake queen I wonder? In one interview there was a very vague reference to a friend, but nothing more and there has certainly been no more mention of another queen. I did find that there is a business in America called the Cupcake Queen but I would have thought this was irrelevant. Yes you have to have a unique business name, but only in Australia I think.
Monique founded the business way back in 2005. Why? Well when she got married she could not find any suitable cupcakes for the wedding feast, and ended up thinking she could do better herself. The honeymoon was in New York which was undergoing a cupcake craze at the time and so the idea came to start the business. So first of all, and pretty sensibly she tried her cupcakes out at farmer's markets, and then decided to go online and deliver. Seeing her success her husband gave up his job in finance and took over the financial side of the business. In 2010 they opened their first store in Williamstown. I am not sure how many stores still exist. The website lists five although the accompanying Google map shows 7. At one point there were definitely 10 across Melbourne, and there was also talk of one more, although I do not know if this came to fruition. So maybe the company is in decline. Maybe COVID sunk that side of the business. Maybe the online business has become the major earner. In the stores you can buy the cupcakes and also eat them in the attached cafés. So it seems to be a successful business that one statistical website listed as earning $5 million+ per year.
Once again, though, I find myself asking why is this business so successful when others are perhaps not? There have probably been lots of other people trying to start a successful cupcake business - and of course there are indeed some others but if you have more than one location surely you must be in the successful class. Indeed one of those sites that list the ten best of things, had The Cupcake Queens at the top of their list. Are they cheaper? Well they are certainly not cheap - in the shops I believe a cupcake will set you back $4.00 and if you order online it will be nearer $4.50. These are not cheap things. But then I guess they are special occasion treats rather than an everyday thing. Like macarons which they also make, along with shortcake cookies of various kinds and special occasion cakes which will set you back from $50 to $95.
What are you paying for? Is it the quality of the ingredients in the products, and the quality of their creation? You know - organic eggs, hand-made, stone-ground flour - or whatever it is that is the usual thing? Or is it the packaging. Yes they might come in a pretty box if you order them online - where you can't buy just one by the way - but you have to pay an extra $2.00 for the carrier bag. The picture below is of their Red Velvet offering - I believe this is a common cupcake type and traditionally has a cream cheese frosting. And by the way they don't seem to do Red Velvet anymore. They do something called Red Sparkle which is the same but with a red heart on top. Next to them is the Coles offering - $5.50 for a box of four - $1.25 each? Have I got my maths right? No fancy packaging, but you could do that yourself if this was going to be a gift for someone. Just find something in your local $2.00 shop.
And here's a thought - maybe the Cupcake Queens company makes them for Coles! Monique Milenkovic's original cupcakes might have been handmade but to supply all of those outlets, not to mention the online business - and maybe Coles? - they are definitely not handmade any more. There is a factory somewhere. I don't imagine that each of those stores make them in-house.
Or you can just make your own at home of course. If you like cupcakes or have small children who do and who have fun making them.
So are they worth the money? Well I checked out customer reviews on the Zomato website and as well as the two at the top of the page, here are the first two:
"Terrible cupcakes and terrible online customer service."
"Absolutely delicious cupcakes! I was so impressed with the interactive website experience."
You'd have to wonder whether you are talking about the same things wouldn't you? And really the only way to find out is to try it yourself, and even then you might pick the wrong flavour or the wrong day. One reviewer said that they had to take a stale one from the day before rather than a fresh one. At least in the supermarkets they mark things down if they are old. Indeed yesterday I tried to buy some marked down chillies only to be told at the checkout that they were too old and therefore not allowed to be sold. They looked perfectly good to me, but I guess they worry about being sued for selling gone off food. I just hope it goes to Second Bite, although if it's not safe for me to buy, then why should it be safe for Second Bite? If you want to be ethical in this world I think that sometimes it's just too hard.
The Cupcake Queens are pushing sticky date flavoured items today. Is this because the sticky date component is old?
Then there's the company itself. I also checked GlassHouse - a website that listed people's experiences working for different companies. Alas I can no longer copy the reviews - it's one of those sites where you get one free look and then you have to sign in, etc. However, what I remember is that the first review was a rave review about what a wonderful experience it was working there, and how kind management was. Then there were two or three very, very negative reviews, about long hours, bullying, rudeness, inflexibility and so on. With a few somewhere in the middle. So what are you supposed to think? After all maybe the first review could have been written by the company itself. Remember Chris Lucas, saying that he got social media buzzing with the opening of Chin Chin by getting his staff to post rave reviews and pictures on Instagram, etc.? Maybe the negative reviews came from shonky workers who had got the sack and wanted revenge. Maybe they were from competitors. Who knows?
Which raises the question, that I so frequently ask myself, how much do you need to know about every product you buy? How can you truly do the right thing? How many of us read the small print on the labels on everything we buy in the Supermarket? How many of us know where the food we buy comes from, how it is produced, who, if anyone, is making money out of it and do they deserve to? Should anyone make money? Is suspect that some people think not. It's impossible isn't it? Too much information.
Thinking again about the fewer store numbers I wonder whether the company is also moving in different directions - towards events, and companies. They certainly seem to have a big section on this on their website menu. Gone along with the stores are the classes that they used to offer - mostly to kids. Maybe Monique's four children are now horrible teenagers and therefore the interest in kids has gone. And that's another question isn't it? How can you run a business worth a few million and still be a good mother? Is it possible? Maybe.
Questions, questions, questions - from being behind a white van at the traffic lights.