By Chris Bacon
Standing in an apron behind a brilliantly illuminated display of perfectly crafted cupcakes, Renee King delightfully greets and waits on each of her customers, individually. It’s around noon on “Small Business Saturday” and five customers are nestled into this cozy cupcake shop. As two first-timers are glancing over the menu, King explains each flavor in depth, and they agree to try out “Dutch Apple Pie” and “New York Cheesecake.” Soon after, a mother and her two children come in to pick up their usual Saturday dozen.
“That was one of my regulars. I have people that come in every Friday and Saturday religiously,” King said.
At just 23 years old, King is the proud owner of “The Queen’s Cups,” a gourmet cupcake shop located in Millbury, Massachusetts. Since its grand opening in October, King’s cupcakes have been quite a hit. The shop sold out completely during its first weekend and business has been steady ever since.
After graduating with a degree in Psychology from Worcester State University, King chose to forego a potential career as a counselor
“When I graduated and had the opportunity to do this, I thought ‘I really enjoy doing this, so this is what I’m going to go for’,” King said.
For seven years, King worked at an after school program at the Shaw School in Millbury. Up until about a year ago, she had little-to-no baking experience. King began baking at her house one day in order to satisfy her craving for something chocolate-raspberry flavored. After finding a box of chocolate cake mix and a jar of raspberry preserve, King decided to make a dozen chocolate raspberry cupcakes, rather than a whole, traditional cake. She didn’t realize it would end up being her first batch of “Queen’s Cups.”
After enjoying the first batch so much, King started experimenting further with different ingredient combinations and posted some pictures of her unique cupcake creations online. Soon after, people began inquiring about them. They asked to place orders, and King obliged. She then started baking hundreds of cupcakes a week, fulfilling people’s orders for parties, weddings, and other events. That is when she realized she had something good going for her.
“I have a passion for making cupcakes because it’s something I work hard for and know I’m good at. I tried doing other things, but I didn’t have as much fun and didn’t work as hard.
I think what I can do with cupcakes is endless,” said King.
She certainly found her passion at a good time. Cupcakes are hotter than ever thanks to popular TV shows like “Cupcake Wars” and “Cake Boss” which cater to celebrity clientele. Across the country, gourmet cupcake shops are on the rise in major cities, including Boston and New York. A prime example is a shop named “Sweet,” which now has four locations around Boston.
Cupcakes are not just considered a children’s treat anymore. Top bakers have been revolutionizing the idea of the modern cupcake. Cupcakes can now be viewed as gourmet, single serving sized cakes, which use high-quality ingredients and are presented in an artistic fashion. Simply put: cupcakes are trendy.
“I hope the trend becomes permanent and doesn’t fade away or else I’ll be in trouble,” King said, laughing. “But it’s definitely helped me so far. People have traveled to try my cupcakes after seeing those shows or hearing about the places in Boston,” she said.
Each cupcake King makes is carefully crafted from her own original recipe, and uses only the highest quality ingredients, such as fresh fruit and organic peanut butter. King makes numerous gourmet varieties, with the flavor menu changing each day. This is a unique attribute which allows King to experiment with many different varieties of the same product, and see which ones her customers prefer. Some flavors include: Strawberry Lemonade, Chocolate Chip Cannoli, New York Cheesecake, Maple Bacon & Chocolate, Peanut Butter Lovers, Double Fudge Sundae, Banana Split, Dutch Apple Pie, Chocolate Raspberry, Red Velvet, & S’mores.
“I’ll look at something and think about how I can make it into a cupcake,” King said, describing her creative process. “I don’t use ideas from other sources; I always stay true to me.”
King can be considered an artist, of sort. She makes each culinary masterpiece herself and molds it to look exactly as she pictures it. She uses extreme detail, like the inclusion of a straw in the Strawberry Lemonade cupcake or whipped cream, jimmies, and a cherry on top of the Hot Fudge Sundae cupcake. She uses fun colors and distinct toppings to draw people in and allow them to get a feel for each cupcake.
“I treat my cupcakes like individual works of art,” King said. “Presentation is huge…I am a perfectionist. If I feel that a cupcake doesn’t look exactly how I want it, I won’t sell it.”
King thought of launching her business when a vacant store front had opened up down the street from her home.
“I had just graduated and didn’t have a job lined up. And with all these cupcake orders, I didn’t have time for a full-time job anyway, so I decided why not give it a shot and open up a shop,” King said.
She decided to call the landlord and upon discovering its very reasonable price, agreed to lease the building. King’s father, Paul King, a long time chef and skilled handyman, fixed over the interior and built her a bakery. She credits him with showing her the ropes of the culinary business. He also helps her around the shop when needed.
“People go to school to learn everything that he taught me. He’s been so helpful,” King said.
As a Millbury native, King has a sense of pride opening up a business in her hometown. She now owns the only bakery in Millbury, since the last remaining bake shop recently shut down. In fact, King has been seeing some familiar faces.
“My old principal came in today and some of my old teachers will come in sometimes and that’s fun to me. Everyone’s been so supportive,” she said.
There is not much competition out there for King. The Queen’s Cups is the only shop which specializes specifically in cupcakes in the Worcester area. Compared to the popular bakery “Sweet” on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester (no relation to the ones in Boston), The Queen’s Cups is similarly priced at $2.85 per cupcake and reaches a different demographic of people. King caters more to the local, early-bird, townie crowd, while “Sweet” is located stylishly amongst numerous restaurants on Shrewsbury St., and serves many other types of foods, pastries, coffees, and alcoholic beverages throughout the night.
Upon the store’s opening, Worcester Magazine wrote a rave review on The Queen’s Cups, giving it a five star rating. She credits the article with bringing in a lot of her clientele.
An excerpt from the article stated:
“Hidden in a corner on Millbury Avenue in Millbury is a small, adorable cupcake shop that you do not want to miss. Specializing in just cupcakes, The Queen’s Cups had a case full of beautiful surprises that looked so good, we broke down and bought a half dozen.”
The article made King sort of a local celebrity.
“Some people have brought in the Worcester Magazine article and asked me to autograph it for them,” King said, laughing. “But that’s not me, at all.”
The transition from college kid to business owner hasn’t been all fun and games for King, though. When she made the decision to trade in the life of a normal 23 year old young adult for the life of a business owner, she didn’t really know what to expect.
“I have no life anymore,” King admits.
She has sacrificed going out with her friends and sleeping in late for 10 hour work days and early morning baking. Even in her free time when the shop isn’t open, she is busy cleaning and organizing the shop and kitchen, scheduling and preparing for the following week, and going out to purchase ingredients. She has very little time to relax. However, these decisions were made in order to better herself for the future.
King admits, “There’s so much stress every day. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot, but you have to give up a part of your life now in order to one day be successful.”
Aside from running The Queen’s Cups, King is also the head coach of the Millbury Junior High School Girls Basketball team and an assistant coach for the Millbury High School Girls Basketball team. Although she is very passionate about coaching, it is another sacrifice she might have to make in the future as she continues to expand her business.
As a business owner, King has learned that there is never a day off. She bakes all of her cupcakes early each morning in order to always deliver her customers the freshest product possible. It was impossible for her to keep up with the demand by herself, so she looked to one of her closest friends, Stephanie Morrissey, for help. Morrissey works full-time in the financial department at EMC, but agreed to help out her friend Renee whenever she could.
“It’s really been a fun experience,” said Morrissey, glowing. “I’ve learned a lot from Renee.”
King now has three employees, all of which are friends, working for her part-time.
While making cupcakes won’t make her a millionaire anytime soon, it has proven to be beneficial financially for King, thus far. She recently purchased her first car, a new Volkswagen SUV. It is the first time she’s ever had to make car payments, and for some odd reason, she’s happy about that. For the first time in her life she is paying her own bills, and she’s extremely proud of it.
“This is fun to me,” King said. “My mom always told me life’s too short, so you have to love what you do.”
Not many people love what they do. In a society where cash rules, most of us just do what we have to do in order to get by. At just 23, King made the admirable decision to pursue what she loves while she still can.
In the movie “A Bronx Tale,” Robert De Niro’s character, “Lorenzo,” tells his son, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” Too many of us go through life wondering, “What if…” Renee King realized she had a special talent and decided to capitalize on it. Just six months ago she was a typical, newly graduated, 23 year old girl from Millbury, trying to figure out what do next. Now, Renee King is the cupcake queen.
The Queen’s Cups is located at 238 Millbury Ave, Millbury, MA. (508) 304-0078