Fans of the Food Network show Cupcake Wars have probably heard the name Arleen Scavone or been told about her namesake bakery, Sweet Arleen's, a few times. This three-peat Cupcake Wars winner (she won twice and her baking assistant won once) began her baking business in the sunny state of California, but is now looking to spread her franchise to another large state, Texas. She is working on opening a storefront in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and has announced that she will be opening a bakery in Houston as well.
While many of you probably think Houston is pretty well covered in the cupcake shop department, with a multitude of bakeries such as CRAVE, Sprinkles, Celebrity Cupcakes, Petite Sweets and so on, Scavone believes Houston is a great market for her brand. As a banker, she spent many years in Texas and considers it her second home.
"When I look at the Houston market, along with the Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth area, those three markets within Texas I believe are very key to our brand," Scavone says. "We see some of the best chefs coming into the Texas area. We see the right economic phase. We also look at the ability to do fundraising in those cities that are inclined to support their community because we do a lot of fundraising and a lot of giving back to the community."
She says she wants to open what she calls the "hub," which will be the main store with a full kitchen, in Sugar Land. From there, she anticipates opening two more storefronts, called spoke models, which the hub will support with its kitchen. She believes that the overall experience, coupled with the taste and quality of her cupcakes offered by Sweet Arleen's, will draw customers to her stores over other cupcake shops in Houston. She hopes to open the first Sweet Arleen's in Houston in the next year to 18 months.
"Just like in banking, when there used to be a bank on every street corner, I learned early on you couldn't be all things to all people, so I think that the one component that differentiates our Sweet Arleen's brand from others is that we really are a consistent business model," Scavone says. "And so when our customers visit Sweet Arleen's, they're getting more than just a cupcake; they're getting the full experience. And when they taste the quality, they'll taste the difference between our French buttercreams and Swiss buttercreams versus the overly sweet American buttercreams that are in over 99.9 percent of all cupcake shops."
To Scavone, the "cupcake fad" is not over and is not going away anytime soon. However, she does believe that those cupcake shops that don't have the "discipline" and proper procedures in place to run an efficient business will not be around for long.
"In all businesses, anything that's popular, people focus on the downside. When is it going to go away, right? And there are peaks and valleys in any business. Cupcakes, I believe wholeheartedly, are here to stay," she says. "They're an alternative to a cake. You've never seen cakes go away. You've never seen bakeries go away. Cupcakes are just another form of dessert, in that light, but they're more affordable. A cupcake is actually approximately $2 to $3 cheaper per slice than a cake if you were having a wedding, and you don't have serving and cutting costs."
The best-selling cupcake at Sweet Arleen's is the Red Velvet variety, which has been a winner on Cupcake Wars.
"It continues to be a favorite, particularly among our student population -- they love the Red Velvet," she says. "Our cream cheese icing has a secret ingredient in it which tempers that sweet taste, so you can actually taste the cream cheese in your cream cheese icing. And the Red Velvet sponge is a moist and bright-red beautiful Red Velvet product."
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But don't expect to find only cupcakes at Sweet Arleen's. Scavone offers another sweet (and savory) treat in her stores -- bread pudding. She says that her interest in the culinary field mostly came from her love for bread puddings rather than cupcakes.
"I grew up in a very modest, very humble upbringing. We didn't have a lot of money growing up," Scavone says. "My mom was a stay-at-home mom, my father was a truck driver, and [I have] two older [siblings], sister and brother, and so my sister and I really spent most days when we were out of school and the weekends cooking and baking at home. And the one thing that Mom always had was bread, milk and eggs, and part of the bread pudding phenomenon came from that; I can create a lot of cool things out of those three ingredients."
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Scavone's bread puddings come in a multitude of flavors, ranging from sweet to savory. Whether you want a macaroni and cheese bread pudding for lunch, a French toast bread pudding for breakfast or a dulce de leche bread pudding for dessert, there's an option for you.
The best-selling bread pudding is the sweet chocolate with chocolate sauce. It's served warm, and tastes and acts like a soufflé. The French toast with maple syrup and praline-topping breakfast bread pudding is another favorite.
Scavone also hopes to add a cupcake food truck to the Houston market, which she has already established in California. Her cupcake trucks are available for private parties, food truck parks and events, as well as fundraisers, specifically with schools and nonprofits; Sweet Arleen's gives back a certain percentage of the proceeds to schools.
"I just can't wait [to open in Houston]," Scavone says. "It's a matter of finding the right owner as part of the Sweet Arleen's family. I personally am very committed to the success of each Sweet Arleen's; it is my namesake and that's very important to me, and I can't wait to come to Houston and start serving cupcakes to this community."