Adnan Hamidi is the owner of Alexandria Cupcake on King Street in the heart of beautiful and historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. In this interview he tells us how he got into the cupcake business originally and how he has turned Alexandria Cupcake not only into a successful venture but also an institution in his local community.
Business Innovators Magazine: Adnan, you made a personal decision to follow your passion, to go into the business that you’d always dreamed of, and now you’re succeeding in it. And it’s a fun business. It’s something that brings a lot of pleasure to your customers. Tell us what you sell and who your customers are.
Adnan Hamidi: Well, as the name says, we are Alexandria Cupcake. We are a European-style bakery that specializes in gourmet cupcakes. We also have a small coffee service that goes with our cupcakes. We sell cold drinks, cookies, biscotti – a variety of baked goods – but cupcakes are the hub of the matter.
BIM: Cupcakes are your bread and butter.
Adnan: Cupcakes are the bread and butter and the icing on the cake.
As far as the clientele we serve, we have a wide range of customers. We have our locals, residents of Old Town.
And we serve a lot of tourists. Alexandria’s a very historical town. Tourists flock into Old Town by the thousands every year. We also serve a lot of local corporate offices, trade associations and non-profits – local businesses, offices, law firms, real estate offices.
And of course we serve a lot of the local couples that get married in or around Old Town. We provide wedding cupcakes instead of wedding cakes.
BIM: Even though Cupcake is half of your name I don’t think it really adequately describes what you do – at least not for someone who hasn’t eaten one of your creations. Tell us about a few of your most popular flavor combinations.
Adnan: Our top seller is our red velvet cupcake with classic cream cheese frosting. It has been voted the best on the Eastern Seaboard. Another one of our creations was launched right after we opened, for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Old Town: our Guinness cupcake. It is a Guinness Stout chocolate cake with Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting.
Adnan: The other cupcake that is gaining popularity is our gluten-free chocolate cupcake. You don’t have to be gluten intolerant to love this cupcake. It has all the fat and calories you could ask for, but instead of using wheat flower we use coconut flour in this particular cake and we use coconut oil for the fat.
BIM: What was the cupcake you gave me when I was in the shop a couple of weeks ago that had the fresh raspberry fruit on top?
Adnan: What you had was my son’s favorite cupcake, the vanilla bean cupcake with Belgian cocoa frosting topped with a raspberry.
BIM: Unbelievable. It was like heaven. The little taste explosion of the raspberry at the end was unbelievable.
Adnan: It works very well with that chocolate, and especially the vanilla cake. That way you get the best of both worlds. You get the vanilla fix that you’re looking for and then you get your chocolate fix, and the you have the healthy fix, which is the raspberries.
BIM: Exactly what I was going to say. I’m getting my fresh fruit, mom. Okay, so how did you decide to get into this wonderful business in the first place? it’s a competitive business and Old Town is an incredibly competitive market. Shoppers and diners have so many different options there. How did you decide to get into the cupcake business originally, Adnan, and why pick Old Town Alexandria?
Adnan: When I was in elementary school, I was forced to take Home Economics, which really means cooking class. Now, oh, boy, did I cry. I didn’t want to be there, this is just not what guys do. But lo and behold, all of a sudden the first class was baking and I loved it. I think that is where the bug bit me about baking.
Where I grew up in California, as a teenager, I would take baked goods, chocolate chip cookies and apple and cherry pies, and enter them into the local fair out there. Guess what? A lot of those grandmas that had been baking for years got pretty mad when I started winning ribbons.
After that I think the bug was always in me. I grew up in a wonderful house with my mom being this amazing chef, so I was exposed at an early age to gourmet foods.
About ten years ago I started thinking that maybe I wanted to open a restaurant. I had a lot of friends in the restaurant business and I knew the headaches that go along with it.
So I considered it from an entrepreneurial perspective – how do I minimize those headaches? I decided let’s do dessert. We can concentrate on dessert and let’s do more of a European style carry-out bakery.
As I got to thinking about it and thinking about it, somehow, somewhere it lead to cupcakes. And I knew I was on the right track when I saw a couple of cupcake bakeries that were doing very well. That solidified my decision and within a year of making that decision, we opened up the bakery in Old Town.
I wanted it to be Old Town because my heart lies in Old Town. I’ve been in this area for 23 years since I moved from California. I thought this was just a perfect environment for a cupcake bakery. I took a leap of faith, crunched some numbers, and opened the doors.
We actually established the company, Alexandria Cupcake, in 2009, and in January of 2010 we opened our doors. Since then it has been a great ride.
BIM: It turned out it was a good decision. You had a great idea and picked the right spot.
Adnan: I think that location is important, and now we’ve become an institution in Old Town.