Recipe for success

A local bakery finds a niche in Syracuse University's catering services with their varied cupcakes.

The smells of rising dough and vanilla hit you when you enter the small Cupcakes & Smiles bakery in Camillus. Rows of cupcakes piled high with frosting peek out of a glass display. The five flavors of the week are written in fluorescent green and blue on a board behind the counter.

But the kitchen in the back is more chaotic.

Photo: Phoenix Wang
Pamela Vincent stands behind the cupcake display in her Camillus bakery, Cupcakes & Smiles.

Three women worked in assembly-line fashion. One piped orange carrots and green leaves on carrot cupcakes. Another whipped a second batch of chocolate buttercream for a triple chocolate recipe, reading from a stained recipe taped to the stainless steel work tables. The microwave timer chimed every 15 minutes, signifying another tray of cupcakes are ready to cool.

Pamela Vincent, the shop’s owner, inspects a new bag of confectioner’s sugar – a brand she hasn’t tried yet. “I’m really excited about this,” she said. “I can’t wait to see how it comes out.” She stuck her hand in the five pound bag, checking the powder’s texture and nodding her approval.

Vincent started the bakery four years ago with a three-person staff and a single French door convection oven. Now the bakery caters to different events, churning out hundreds of baked goods from the singular oven for weddings and local businesses. Most recently, Syracuse University joined the list.

Vincent started the bakery after watching an episode of “Oprah” when the host listed off her favorite things. Cupcakes were one of them.

She used to go through budgets as an executive director of a company. She was laid off twice in a year’s time. Baking was a totally new concept.

“I was never really a baker, but I thought, ‘It’s bold, and it will buy,’” Vincent said. 

She saved up some money and bought every piece of baking equipment she could. Dozens of sheet trays. Cupcake molds, big and miniature. Two stand mixers. She had only two basic recipes. She now has around 60 flavors for customers to choose from.

Vincent was approached by Joseph Sidoni in early August. Sidoni, manager of SU’s Campus Catering, was tipped off about the shop by a colleague, who mentioned the “really good” cupcakes.

“We’ve gotten just plain, run-of-the-mill cupcakes in the past,” he said. “So I called up Pam up at Cupcakes & Smiles and wanted to introduce myself, get a couple free samples.” The catering service prides itself on using local vendors.

Cupcakes & Smiles has catered several events on the campus already, including a reception held by SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor, an event for the football team, and several buffets and dinners. The orders are never small, Vincent said. It can range from five to 15 dozen cupcakes for one event.

Many orders that large are for weddings. The shop usually caters up to three weddings a week. Orders for weddings for next year are organized on the wall by month.

The store doesn’t restrict itself to cupcakes. Cakes can be made in any flavor and many weddings request a cake in the same style as the cupcakes. The store also has had their share of odd requests. One birthday cake looked like vomit. A cake shaped like breasts was crafted for a bachelor party. 

The cupcakes are made fresh every day. Anything left over from the day (though that’s a rare occurrence) is frozen. If anyone comes and asks for a last-minute donation, the cakes will come out of the frost box.

“The products have such a short shelf life, so we don’t recycle too much,” Vincent said.

Vincent is no stranger to charity work for the area. During October, she sprinkles all of the cupcakes in the display case with pink ribbon sprinkles for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a disease her sister has experienced. She also donates cupcakes to her childrens’ school events. She baked desserts for judges of the “Tournament of Bands” competition her son was in at West Genesee High School.

It all comes back to community for Vincent. With the opportunity to work with the university and get bigger business, she ran with it.

“It’s been a great thing,” she said. “They’ve given me great business, and I hope it keeps me busy for a while.”

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