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October 21, 2017

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Q+A: So what is Sprinkles founder Candace Nelson’s favorite cupcake flavor?


Candace Nelson opened Sprinkles in California in 2005. She swears by the rocky road ice cream made with Chuao chocolate and homemade marshmallow.

Holly Madison at Sprinkles in the Linq

Holly Madison and owner Candace Nelson at Sprinkles in the Linq on Friday, March 21, 2014, at center Strip. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Holly Madison at Sprinkles in the Linq on Friday, March 21, 2014, at center Strip.

Click to enlarge photo

Holly Madison at Sprinkles in the Linq on Friday, March 21, 2014, at center Strip.

Everybody from Tom Cruise to Oprah Winfrey and Blake Lively to Ryan Seacrest is abuzz about Sprinkles, the fresh-baked cupcakes sold across America in 14 locations. And now it’s here in Las Vegas for the first time at the Linq with Holly Madison its first customer at the first-ever cupcake ATM.

Founder Candace Nelson, who started the whole haute cupcake craze with the world’s first cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills, is a judge on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” She also launched the world’s first cupcake truck, a traveling Sprinklesmobile, and those secret ingredients are sold as mixes in more than 250 Williams-Sonoma stores.

Candace expanded from cupcakes into Sprinkles Ice Cream, and now she’s going to increase her rapidly growing empire overseas with the first store in Dubai. “Maybe I can help bring about peace one cupcake at a time if all the factions come for desserts,” she said.

It could just happen because that’s how popular her contagious confections have become in less than a decade. I talked with Candace when she came to the Linq for the opening of her 15th U.S. outlet.

So who or which came first, the cupcake or Candace?

Candace came around first, 1974, but the cupcake was not long after. I grew up baking with my mom. What’s funny is I was growing up a lot of my earlier years internationally. I was living in Indonesia, so when I had a hankering for one of my childhood treats — a chocolate chip cookie, cupcake, brownie — I couldn’t find it, so I had to make them myself. I grew up baking with my mom, and I always had this great passion for classic American deserts.

Why have cupcakes exploded in popularity the last couple of years? Is it only just because of red velvet or have they always been there quietly but nobody really noticed, and then they became hot again?

I think Americans have always loved cupcakes, but what they didn’t like was that they were mostly found in supermarkets and made with bad ingredients; the frosting was made with shortening, and the sprinkles were kind of waxy tasting. So with Sprinkles, what I aimed to do was elevate that low-rung cupcake and make it something sophisticated that would be served on par with special-occasion desserts made with the best ingredients and stylish design.

So is it now as American as doughnuts and apple pie?

Absolutely, and you know that because there are cupcake shops exploding across the world now. It’s one of our great exports, and what’s great to see is that when you go to Paris, there are cupcake shops in Paris. It can’t get any better than a French croissant, yet they’re importing our cupcakes!

So where did cupcakes come from?

Well, cupcakes are American named, and they were just made with cake batter and put in muffin tins. That original cheap food has now become a gourmet item. The other thing I think about them that is so irresistible is that they’re an individual treat. Everything in our society now is so personalized, it’s so individualized, and everyone wants to feel like something was made just for them. So a slice of cake is not really special, but ours is a little cake freshly baked that’s been packaged and wrapped and presented especially for you.

It’s just $3.50, made with the best ingredients, the world’s best chocolate and vanilla. Personally made for our customers!

What are your favorite three flavors that you eat.

I love our chocolate marshmallow, I love our banana, and I love our seasonal flavors that we’re about to launch — my choice is lemon meringue.

You didn’t say red velvet, which is the craze, right?

Red velvet is our No. 1 seller. It doesn’t matter where we open or what we do, people go crazy for it. What’s funny is when we first opened up in Beverly Hills in 2005, people didn’t know what it was. They’d come in and ask for the red carpet or the black velvet. We knew what they were asking for, but now everybody knows what it is.

Now here in Las Vegas, this is our 15th store. We were really excited about the fact that it was an outdoor destination; Las Vegas is beautiful most of the year. I love to be outside in Las Vegas. We are at the best tourist development in Los Angeles at the Grove, and it’s our No. 1 store as far as transactions. So we really like what’s happening here at its sister district, the Linq — truly excited about this location.

The ATM, which has 600 cupcakes in it, right? Are they all different ones?

Three hundred of this, 300 of that. We sort of have to edit the flavors that you can get out of the ATM. I’m really excited. This is really the perfect spot for the ATM. I’m so excited I am going to come out here at 3 in the morning and see us selling cupcakes around the clock after the store closes at midnight! Many people will have a hankering at four or five in the morning. All they have to do is swipe their charge card and take them out.

On the Food Network, do you preach the gospel of cupcake?

I do, I do! I’m a judge on “Cupcake Wars,” which is a really, really tough job, but somebody has to do it. I get to taste the delicious creations of bakers from across the country fighting for the title of Cupcake Champion. People are out there making and baking thousands of cupcakes themselves. Many of them have businesses across the country, and they come to show me and our judges what they can do.

So as an attractive blonde who weighs just 110 pounds, what is the dietetic cupcake? How do you keep your figure and weight if you have to eat cupcakes professionally for the business?

The nice thing about a cupcake is that it is an elite portion control. We’ve all hated ourselves by continuing to take slice after slice after slice off the cake, but you know what you’ve eaten when you’ve had a cupcake; you’ve had a cupcake. For some, it’s eat one and that’s good; others have two or four, and that’s good for me.

It can’t just be cupcakes! Where do you go next?

We started with the cupcakes, then a couple of years ago when we launched our ice cream, which is old-fashioned American ice cream done right with organic dairy and the world’s best chocolate; all the best ingredients — we slow churn it. Also doing cookies now with European-style butter. You know there are a lot of places we can go. I think of Sprinkles as being applicable to so many different things; doughnuts, chocolate. It will be interesting to see what we serve up next.

Do you think of yourself as a mogulette?

I think of myself as very fortunate that I get to make a living doing what I love to do. When we did the first one, it was hard to believe it was going to work. Certainly no one around me thought it would work. It’s the first-ever cupcakes-only bakery; the first thing you have to ask yourself is why has no one ever done this before? Maybe it’s because it doesn’t work. Then when we first opened in 2005, it was the low-carb craze; no one was eating carbs. Particularly in Beverly Hills, but I can attest to the fact that starlets do eat, and they seem to eat a lot of cupcakes.

Do they eat honestly, or do they eat behind closed doors?

Well, I’ve seen them eat in the store, actually. Maybe it’s just for the cameras. I don’t know.

So Sprinkles does cupcakes, ice cream and now cookies in America. What is yet to come?

Our next store will be in the Mideast. Maybe we can win peace one cupcake at a time. The best is yet to come.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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