A trip to Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C. is a feast for the senses, and that’s even before you get a taste of the delicious treats that have made it a dessert destination in this landmark-filled city.
“It’s a very visual, very sensory experience,” says Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, who opened Georgetown Cupcake in 2008 with her sister, Katherine Kallinis Berman. “You come in and smell the cupcakes as soon as you walk through the door. You see the display and all the colors. We want you to come in and have a fun experience and feel like it’s a special place to visit.”
Armed with recipes from their grandmother and a passion for baking, the sisters threw caution to the wind in 2008, trading in their corporate jobs and returning to the kitchen. What began as a tiny outpost in trendy Georgetown has since exploded into a global brand, one sweet treat a time, with stores across the country, bestselling books and a television show as part of the portfolio.
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“We always refer to ourselves as accidental entrepreneurs,” LaMontagne says. “We love baking, we love frosting, and that’s why we started the business. All we wanted to do was use our recipes, pay our rent and be our own boss. I remember that first day, I wondered if anyone was going to show up, and there was a line. Then the next day there was a line, and the next, and it continued like that. Since the early days, I think people fell in love because they could see we were baking from scratch every day with the very best ingredients.”
The line remains at the D.C. location, with eager fans sharing a communal experience as they take a peek into the open kitchen and await the opportunity to sample more than fifteen cupcake flavors available daily, ranging from classics like Chocolate and Red Velvet to more adventurous concoctions like Vegan Apple Cinnamon and Peanut Butter & Jelly.
“People tell us they like waiting in the line, because they make friends and exchange numbers,” LaMontagne says with a laugh. “It’s a fun chance to meet people from around the world.”
As soon as Georgetown Cupcake opened, word of mouth from satisfied customers led the sisters to begin shipping cupcakes to hungry fans everywhere. As they contemplated expanding the business outside of D.C., LaMontagne and Berman studied shipping logistics to see the locations where customers were ordering the most cupcakes, making it easier to determine where they would grow Georgetown Cupcake without overextending the brand. Those findings led them to open Georgetown Cupcake locations in Bethesda, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
“We wanted to keep the magical feeling, like when they come into the flagship store,” LaMontagne says. “We tried to really pick iconic neighborhoods and blocks in each city because we really wanted to create this destination experience where people can come in with their families and have a fun experience. That’s a big part of the feeling of our brand, a destination philosophy. It really means a lot to us when families put Georgetown Cupcake on their list of places to visit.”
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While the sisters’ two-person operation has grown to the point that they are no longer baking every day, LaMontagne and Berman are still very hands-on with the business, continually testing new recipes, creating special cupcake displays and teaching demonstrations via the store’s 24/7 Cupcake Cam. More importantly, they act as staunch advocates for the power of their delicious treats.
“There is something personal about cupcakes. It’s a single serving, just for you,” says LaMontagne. “When someone brings one to you, or you open up a box, it feels a little more special than, say, having an ice cream cone. We want people to come in and say, ‘The cupcakes were amazing, the staff was friendly, and the visit surpassed my expectations.’ Our goal is to make the customer’s experience so amazing that they tell their family and friends about it.”
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