Let them eat cupcakes

The Limestone City Cupcakery brings flavour to downtown

McEver at work in the Cupcakery’s kitchen.
McEver at work in the Cupcakery’s kitchen.

The sun hadn’t yet risen but the cupcakes were well on their way.

When I arrived at the Limestone City Cupcakery at Princess and Clergy Streets, I heard Lindsay McEver’s music playing as the warmth of the oven surrounded me. The smell of cupcakes made me wish it was acceptable to start my day with treats.

McEver usually starts her days at 4 a.m. baking the day’s cupcake orders.

Honestly, I was thrilled to be awake at this point, but it seems exhausting to have an early and unusual schedule like McEver’s.

“You think you’d get used to it, but you don’t,” she said. “I will never be an early bird. It’s hard every single day to get up.” McEver’s been working here for nine months, since she landed this dream job right out of culinary school.

Her hands move easily from bowl to tin as she gracefully and methodically scoops the batter into perfect cupcakes.

About 18 to 20 dozen cupcakes are baked in the oven and passed along to customers in a day.

However, with large orders thrown in the mix, the process doesn’t always run smoothly.

McEver said that once a customer asked for 1,500 mini cupcakes and the Cupcakery’s mixer broke.

Another time, she dropped three dozen cupcakes on a day of a wedding.

“I almost cried, it was the worst. I just made it happen, you just rush. I don’t even think I told my boss,” she said.

Cupcake flavours are switched up daily and new flavours are taken away and introduced every season or holiday to keep the inventory fresh and exciting.

One of the Cupcakery’s best-sellers is their red velvet cupcake. And for the record, their red velvet has chocolate in it — about an eighth of a cup for a whole batch of cupcakes, to be exact.

Back in the day, the vinegar used in the recipe sparked a chemical reaction with the cocoa, leading to the flavour’s distinct red colour. Nowadays, cocoa is too processed so bakers have to add the red food colouring.

“Red velvet is one of those things that Canadians find is the best thing ever — same with carrot cake. There’s nothing too amazing about it,” she said. “I really like our carrot cake though — that is like the best carrot cake ever.”

The rosewater cupcake, a vanilla cupcake iced with a subtle botanical infusiuon, however, was the first kind I ever tried from the Cupcakery and it will forever hold a place in my heart.

Brown sugar based cupcakes are McEver’s favourites, like the salted caramel, cookie dough or toffee. Despite working in a bakery, McEver said she doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, which surprises a lot of people.

“I never eat cupcakes. And if I do, we offer minis, so it’s like, if you want to try a flavour just eat a mini,” she said.

At this point in the interview, McEver is gracefully icing the birthday cake cupcakes and sprinkling them lightly with multicoloured sprinkles.

The icing swirl is the hardest part, said McEver.

“It’s all muscle memory — trying to remember how hard I have to squeeze it, and each type of icing has a different consistency so you’ve got to learn with the icings too,” she said.

“I’ve really turned into such a perfectionist. I never thought I would be, but now I’m looking at every single one of these cupcakes, wishing I had done a better job.”

They really did all look perfect to eat, though.

When the store first opened, Katherine Lussier, the founder and owner of the Cupcakery, did everything on her own.

“For the first year and a half, if you had purchased a cupcake, I would have baked, decorated it and everything.” Lussier said.

Lussier started her business after she moved to Kingston with her fiancé Colin, while he was doing his Masters at Queen’s.

“When I got here there wasn’t a cupcake store, so I opened one,” she said.

She studied biology and geology during her undergraduate degree at Carleton, but took her passion for baking and turned it into a successful business.

“Everything I learned about opening a business I learned from Google,” Lussier said. “I literally just looked up everything like how to open a business: step one, step two, step three ... and did all of that.”

Founded in October 2011, Lussier opened her business with the help of a loan from her generous uncles who are also independent business owners.

Because of her student loans, no bank would touch her case. Government loan programs also seemed like too tedious of a process for the eager Lussier.

Lussier said she never had any formal baking training either and honed her skills on her own.

“I started baking cakes when I was really little,” she said.

Inspired by a children’s television show, Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, where they made a rabbit-shaped cake, Lussier began her baking career at the age of eight.

“I made literally 100 rabbit cakes when I was eight,” she said, “until somebody was eventually telling me that you can’t make a rabbit for Christmas and then I started making other cakes and when I was in university, I baked for all my friends.”

In the store’s recipe book, you can see both handwritten and typed recipes that Lussier has collected from old family recipes and cookbooks over the years.

Lussier said the store’s recent move from the original Ontario St. location to the Princess St. location has made their business more accessible to students and drawn in a larger crowd.

Weddings are also a big part of the Cupcakery’s orders, doing up to two or three a weekend starting in April until the end of October.

Lussier recently hired a cake decorator to keep up with the demand. A small cake topper is also included in a wedding cupcake order.

The Cupcakery and Lussier’s staff will even be catering her own wedding.

“We’re having like a whole bar of dessert,” she said. “People have high expectations when they’re coming to my wedding. If I go anywhere without cupcakes people are offended.”

Cookie Dough, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the standard Chocolate Obsession are Lussier’s top favourites in her inventory.

With wide interests, Lussier is always looking for her next exciting goal. In addition to the Cupcakery, Lussier also works full-time at Lululemon.

The future of the cupcake shop has endless possibilities for Lussier.

A Redbull cupcake is in the works for exam season.

“For some reason if you take away the carbonation of the Redbull, it tastes flowery or fruity,” she said.

Her fiancé seems like a big fan of the idea — and McEver is on board with experimenting too.

Although it was really difficult at first, Lussier said, the best part of owning her own Cupcakery is the ability to affect and direct change in her business.

“I feel like we’re getting to a place in Kingston, where the downtown is either being taken over by bigger companies or empty spaces and what Kingston really needs is for people to power through the bigger corporation stuff and start your small business,” she said.

“If anybody that reads this is thinking about opening a business: you should, you really should.”

— With files from Emily Miller

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