Icing on the cake
CAMERON DAXON / Bull
Eyes gleaming beneath her auburn bangs, Stacy Nakamura fits the stainless-steel bowl into place and switches the mixer on. As the beater slowly turns, she moves to the refrigerator and takes a tray of miniscule cupcakes to the counter. She puts on a pair of transparent rubber gloves as she picks up a spoon to frost the cakes. “These are my condom gloves,” she says nonchalantly.
She brushes the hair out of her eyes and begins to cover the petite cakes with icing.
Nestled between the Cella Art Gallery and the Salomi Indian Restaurant in North Hollywood, Cupcake Central is certainly not the first “cupcakery” in Southern California, but it is unique in many ways. There is an impressive variety of sweet treats available, but it isn’t the quantity of cakes that makes the fledgling shop stand out, it’s the creative mind behind them.
Nakamura, owner and sole employee of the establishment, is short, spritely and energetic, constantly coming up with new ideas and inspirations for cupcake designing.
“I’m all about cupcakes,” she says, licking a glob of frosting off a spoon. Stacy is constantly on the move in her small store, mixing toppings, straightening the back room, checking items off of her packed calendar. She clarifies, “I’m the badass of cupcakes.” It is clear that Stacy loves what she’s doing. Cupcake Central opened March 2, 2009 and she says it’s been a roller-coaster ride ever since. The store is open six days a week, and there are different cupcakes available depending on the day and season.
Stacy’s store sets itself apart with a level of customization unavailable in other establishments. There is a Coldstone-esque counter with Gummi Bears, Graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and more lined up. “Yeah, that’s the build-your-own bar. How many places do that?” she challenges, as she chuckles to herself.
She leans down to ask a young girl what she wants on her build-her-own as the youngster’s mother looks on. The mother points out a display of Halloween-themed cupcakes to her children. “Look at how cute these are!
These are adorable,” she says to Stacy, who humbly accepts the compliment.
While ringing up the mother, Stacy pulls a sticker sheet out from under the counter, much to the delight of the children. She winks as she whispers, “I know what they want.” She does, too. The mother walks out of the store with three boxes of cupcakes, and the young girls with huge smiles on their faces.
Stacy is adept at what she does, but she never went to culinary school. As soon as she finished high school in the area, she went straight into the Navy, where she worked as a fireman and boiler technician. After traveling to Chicago, San Diego and Hawaii, she settled down in her hometown of North Hollywood to help raise money for her mother, who lives in Minnesota. She is independent and has an amazing work ethic, and it all springs from the fact that she is incredibly enthusiastic and wants to spread that enthusiasm to others. She turns others onto her product through simply letting them have a taste. “If I can give somebody a cupcake and it looks like I’ll get business back, I’ll go for it,” she says.
Willie Fidail, owner and creative genius of Vicious Dogs restaurant a few doors down from Cupcake Central, vouches for Stacy. He’s the man who gave her the money to start the business, and he has never doubted her for an instant.
“She’s one of the most get-together, put-together people I’ve ever met. She’s very creative, and the customers like her,” he says, nodding sagely. “Taking care of multiple people at once? It’s a lost art. But it’s the most important thing in business.”
When the space became available he immediately let Stacy know that “her boat might have come in.” Willie keeps a cupcake that Stacy customized for his restaurant in an airtight box next to the cash register and if customers ask about, he launches into just where it came from and who made it for him.
Since she is both the manager and the owner, Stacy offers discounts and deals to whoever she wants, including students from the Art Institute on Lankershim, Disney employees, and people who order in bulk.
Every store within a block of Cupcake Central has one of Stacy’s flyers prominently displayed because she has made it a priority to meet the owner and establish a relationship with them. It isn’t just advertising heavily that brings in the business, though.
She insists that “you rely a lot on special orders,” especially around the holidays. She thrives on the specials that people request, cupcakes she can customize herself.
In her display case is a variety of cupcakes created by request. There is a cake with the USC Trojan, one with the Transformers icon, and, naturally, an LA Dodgers cake.
When individuals request personalized cupcakes, Stacy fairly crackles with intensity as she plans. Her favorite cake is one she designed for an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed party she catered. On one cake is a perfectly-rendered Alice, complete with blue dress and white apron. On the next is the Queen of Hearts, bellowing “Off with her head!” She does not call herself an artist, but she does “draw on the side,” when she’s not filling orders or making deliveries.
Prominently featured on the wall next to an official-looking Certificate of Ownership is a framed photo of a Playboy Playmate (just a glossy headshot). “Yeah, I’ve made cupcakes for Hugh Hefner. Jessica Hall, one of the Playmates, she comes in here,” says Stacy, as leafs through a binder full of past cupcake inspirations. She pulls out the mold of the Playboy Bunny and smiles widely, recalling the order. “Next time, I’ll do the delivery myself. I’d love to see the mansion.”
Stacy wants to expand. “Conquering,” as she calls it, but she believes things will come “all in due time.”
“I’m dying to. We’re very stuck in the wall. But at the moment I’d rather have one place with a line out the door than expand.” She doesn’t have anyone working under her, and while she enjoys her freedom she hopes to one day be large enough to have a staff working under her. “I don’t need a partner!” She pauses. “Unless I need a partner. You just do it.”
She reflects on that for a moment during a lull in the late afternoon. “Cupcaking is like Nike. You just do it.”