Reporting Tracy Perlman
Filed underBusiness, Consumer, Heard On WCCO-AM, Local, News, Seen On WCCO-TV, Syndicated Local, Watch + Listen
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minneapolis cupcake chef has just been crowned Food Network’s Cupcake Wars champion. It’s no surprise for fans of the Cupcake shop along University Avenue in Minneapolis. Now, its owner, Kevin VanDeraa, is enjoying the sweet taste of success.
“The first thing, the confetti cannon went off and it was so loud, I thought I had been shot,” said VanDeraa.
You’d think by now, VanDeraa would be used to winning the popular culinary challenges. But the judges weren’t always on his side.
“We went there and there was a Bollywood episode. We were completely unprepared and we were the runners up,” said VanDeraa.
Confident in his cakes, the chef knew his recipes were tasty enough to win time and time again.
“When we got the opportunity to come back for the ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ episode, we were like ‘we’re out for blood,’” said VanDeraa.
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VanDeraa headed into the championship with a secret recipe for winning over the judges praise.
“I would take notes on the things Candice liked and the things Gloria liked. And definitely the things they did not like,” said VanDeraa.
Another strategy: knowing which of his current cupcakes could be made within the show’s time limit and with the specific theme and ingredients.
With each win, more customers come through the doors.
“The shows have definitely brought in more customers. After winning Yo Gabba Gabba, it doubled our cupcake business,” said VanDeraa. “Now we get a lot of kids coming in that want autographs who are big fans of the show. A lot of customers do come in specifically for the other cupcakes they saw on the show. Then they see the display case and say ‘maybe I’ll like this other one better?’”
The championship grand prize awarded Cupcake’s humble shop the opportunity to expand.
“We’re working on opening a store on Grand Avenue,” said VanDeraa. “The $50,000 will definitely help with that.”
That new location in St. Paul could open as soon as August or September. The prize money will also go towards expanding and upgrading the current restaurant to support that new bakery.
Looking back, VanDeraa said, the stress from the auditions and the show were well worth it.
“I remember when they asked me to audition, I was like ‘ugh, I hate this kind of stuff.’ It is fun though, it’s really nerve wracking, and you bottle up all this stress, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s especially fun when you win!”
VanDeraa won the competition nearly a month ago, but was locked in a confidentiality agreement and couldn’t tell anyone he took home the top prize.
“You want people to be surprised. You don’t want people to know how it’s going to end. Otherwise, where’s the drama? I didn’t tell any of my friends or family,” said VanDeraa.
Sunday night’s finale was the first time he had seen the footage of the finale.
“I was there but it’s still fun to see how they put it together,” said VanDeraa.
VanDeraa says he will put the prize money toward his baking business. He’s opening a second location on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and possibly another at the Mall of America. He’s also thinking of expanding his existing bakery and café on University Avenue.
The winning cupcakes from the Food Network challenges are for sale in the restaurant and in the Cupcake To-Go food truck.
To see the recipes, click here.