“I brought cupcakes!” Leigha Kemmett happily announced as she walked through the door at the Cornell Daily Sun. She set down a Tupperware container made specifically for cupcakes and opened the box. The smell of freshly baked cupcakes filled the air, and my stomach started to growl.
“I’ve got dark chocolate with buttercream frosting and funfetti with chocolate icing,” Leigha explained.
The beautifully decorated cupcakes attracted swarms of editors at my school’s newspaper, myself included, and soon almost all of the cupcakes were gone. I took my first bite, expecting a standard cupcake, but this cupcake was perhaps the most delicious cupcake I had ever had. The cupcake looked professional—each cupcake was identical in size, with a perfect amount of icing, gorgeously displayed on the cupcake with the most delicate amount of sprinkles—and was light, fluffy, and filled with flavor. I had never seen a cupcake like that; most cupcakes made by my friends are all different sizes, with uneven amounts of icing hastily applied, and overflowing with whatever sprinkles happen to be around.
Soon Leigha’s cupcakes were ubiquitous in my life. We both worked on Cornell’s newspaper and our office was filled with cupcake wrappers, sprinkles, and very well fed editors.
Seeing how much of a hit her cupcakes were among us, a light bulb went off in Leigha’s head: Why not start a business to sell her popular cupcakes? She was tired of baking all the time for friends, the other editors, and herself, plus it was getting expensive. So Campus Cupcakes was born!
“There was nowhere in Ithaca to buy cupcakes!” Leigha explained. With the popularity of cupcakeries like Crumbs, Sprinkles, and Magnolia Bakery in major cities, she sought to continue this trend in Ithaca, NY.
The self-professed baking lover—who has been baking with her grandmother’s recipe since she was a little girl—got creative in the kitchen at a young age, experimenting with flavors and perfecting recipes. It was this creativity and talent for baking that gave Leigha the confidence that her business would succeed.
After securing the necessary commercial baking permits, she enlisted in the help of a friend who specialized in web design and photography to help her create a website, campuscupcakesonline.com, to promote her business. Although word-of-mouth seems to be most effective, Campus Cupcakes uses Twitter and a Facebook fan page along with the website to attract parents who google “Ithaca cupcakes”, eager to send their children a treat at school.
“My cupcakes are all baked fresh-to-order and I make everything from scratch,” Leigha says about the superiority of her cupcake company. Although time-consuming, Leigha finds it important to do all the baking herself, knowing well how hard it is for other people to make such beautiful cupcakes. Even with the popularity of cupcakes in the Ithaca area currently rising¬— cupcakes are being sold everywhere from the movie theatre to the campus a la carte dining facilities—Leigha has no concerns: “those cupcakes are terrible.”
Campus Cupcakes offers a wide variety of flavors “you can’t get anywhere else,” Leigha explains. While her most popular cupcake flavors are Black Magic Chocolate (a heavenly dark chocolate flavor) and Red Velvet, it is the Champagne Cupcakes that are particularly close to her heart as she created them herself, inspired by her favorite drink.
Always open to suggestions on how to innovate her cupcakes, Leigha has allowed customers to request new flavors of icing or cake. Plus she is always willing to personalize the delicious treats! “Just the other day I did an order for a sorority big-little week and decorated the cupcakes in the sorority’s colors,” she said.
Business has been booming for her company as students and parents order cupcakes on the website, often as gifts. Orders have been known to get as large as twenty dozen for fraternity events. Between school and her social life, Leigha bakes, decorates, packages, and delivers cupcakes. She has truly perfected the art of making delicious and aesthetically appealing cupcakes.
Unfortunately Leigha will not be continuing with Campus Cupcakes, as she has already received a job offer following graduation in banking—a slightly less creative profession—but that doesn’t mean the Cornell community will be without her delicious cupcakes. She is open to selling her company, with its strong business reputation and precious recipes, to some interested buyers.
But starting Campus Cupcakes has been a very rewarding experience for Leigha and has taught her a lot—lessons that she believes are valuable for any innovative college student interested in possibly profiting off something they are as passionate about as she is with baking.
“If you have a good idea for a business, just go for it,” Leigha advises. “It may seem hard or silly or like it’s not a good idea, but college is the best time to take risks like starting a business.”
And while Leigha recognizes that the time commitment of starting your own business is difficult, it is all worth it “when customers come back because they love my cupcakes so much.”
Leigha Kemmett, Cornell 2010, Founder of Campus Cupcakes