It sometimes takes a negative to yield a positive. Antoinette Lafayette learned that the hard way: with her prized vanilla cupcakes.
Lafayette, the owner of Pink Frosting Cupcakes in Texas had brought her native New Orleans flavors, such as pralines and cream and cafe au lait, to her cupcake bakery in Irving, Texas. Many of her beloved cupcake recipes had been in her family for generations.
So her feelings were hurt when she started getting a few poor Yelp reviews. When her husband suggested she revisit the vanilla cupcake recipe — she balked.
“I was like, ‘This is my vanilla cupcake, you’re going to like it,’” Lafayette says. Thankfully, she was persuaded. Lafayette swapped an ingredient in the recipe, which “changed the entire dynamic of business,” she says. “The vanilla cupcake has gone from our worst seller to number four.”
That instance served as proof positive of what good can come when open to change. Lafayette credits this ability for how she was able to reinvent herself. At the age of 40, when most people consider their career path set, she had been running her own hair salon for over 20 years in New Orleans, Louisiana. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she and her family evacuated the city and flew to Dallas, Texas, equipped with just two days of clothing.
“We were so used to evacuating, we thought we’d be back soon,” she says. After the storm, Lafayette and her husband realized they wouldn’t be returning to New Orleans anytime soon. Their home and all their belongings had been decimated. “I had two choices — one was to give up. The other was to reinvent myself and to keep going. I chose number two,” says Lafayette.
She started looking for more permanent housing outside of Dallas, where her kids, ages 12 and 16 at the time, could attend school. She also began working at local hair salons. It was a fellow stylist who’d suggested she open a cupcake business. “When we had parties or events at the salon, I was always bringing in dessert,” she says.
Lafayette has a rich tradition of New Orleans cooking in her blood. Her grandmother was the head cook for the Federal Reserve Bank in New Orleans. “I learned a lot from her as far as culinary skills, like always source the best ingredients possible, and always bake from scratch. It’s so easy in this world to cut corners. With food, I refuse to do that.”
Disaster yielded her second act
In 2010, at the age of 45, she went back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in business management. “One of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. Her marketing professor told her about SCORE, a nonprofit that offers free business guidance, where she met her mentor, who helped her write a solid business plan. The doors to Pink Frosting Cupcakes were flung open in December 2012. “The local Chamber of Commerce threw us a ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she says.
While Lafayette says she had to reinvent herself, many of the cupcakes and confections she makes are tied to her past and her deep love for New Orleans. The bananas foster cupcake pays homage to the famous flambe dessert from the historic Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and her signature pralines and cream and southern sweet potato flavors are also hat tips to hometown flavors.
But she is adamant about not remaining stuck in the past. “We’re always thinking of ways to expand the brand,” says Lafayette, whose says her bakery has expanded well beyond cakes and offers celebration cakes, French macarons, chocolate covered pretzels and Oreos and Bread Pudding with Vanilla Rum Sauce. “I am always studying my industry. What is going on? Where is it going? What’s allowed me to keep going is that I’m willing to make changes.”
Lafayette encourages other entrepreneurs to remain open to change and get out of the comfort zone. “I don’t think I would have ever been in the position that I’m in now if I was in that state of contentment. My normal had to be taken away from me,” she says.