Life List: Open a Cupcake Shop
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Life List: Open a Cupcake Shop

Make it happen. Live your dream. Pamela Nelson's life list.

Pamela Nelson
New York, New York
Age 44
In a relationship, Co-owner, Butter Lane Cupcakes

My Goals
Open a cupcake shop
Drive like a NYC cabbie
Read all of Shakespeare's works

The Essentials
KitchenAid mixer
Ateco offset spatulas for icing
Callebaut chocolate

My Plan

When I was little I loved playing office. I always wanted to start a small business and I finally had the chance in January 2008, when I was laid off from my job in finance.

Luckily, I had two friends who were as up for a change as I was. Maria Baugh, Linda Lea, and I had known one another for years; we came up with the idea of a cupcake shop because we all love to bake and we wanted to do something that makes people happy. What I love about cupcakes is that after a hard day you can eat a really great cupcake and not have to share it with anyone.

We started with a basic recipe, then I worked with a professional chef to refine it over and over. But the big challenge was finding the right space for our shop. We finally found the one remaining neighborhood in New York City that didn't have cupcake coverage and negotiated a lease. We were literally testing recipes while the carpenters and plumbers were there.

We'd heard many stories about friendships being strained by working together, so we talked through different scenarios: What happens if we don't sell any cupcakes? What if we want to franchise? We agreed on how much we would invest and a pull-the-plug date. We decided to call our store Butter Lane.

We also committed to using organic dairy products and really good chocolate. The cost is mind-blowing, but I swear you can taste the difference. We figured we had to sell 300 cupcakes daily to cover costs. On opening day we couldn't work out how to get the cash register to open, but luckily our cupcakes were a hit. Now we sell between 700 and 1,200 a day.

What I Learned
It's amazing how much the skills I picked up from previous jobs -- doing research, meeting deadlines -- help with this. You need to be creative, too: We're pushing weddings, for example. Brides who don't want a $4,000 cake can get a cupcake tower that's sweet and dramatic for a couple of hundred.

Before, I was working according to someone else's rules. Now I put in long days but it's gratifying because I'm doing it for myself. Another great thing: It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're around cupcakes. It's so unlike the world of finance: People come into the shop and they're smiling.