Phil Castle, The Business Times
Like so many entrepreneurs, Pattie Dravis traces the origin of her business to the moment she realized she could make a better product — or in her case, bake a better product.
Dravis recalls she was at a birthday party and had grabbed a store-bought cupcake only to discover the frosting was too sweet and the cake too dry. She remembers vividly her reaction: “I can do better than this.”
Drawing on her life-long passion for cooking, Dravis began experimenting and developed a way to make whipped cream frosting that offers the same consistency of the more traditional buttercream frosting, only with a less sweet taste that also moistens the cake. “That’s my secret.”
When friends began to offer to pay her to make more of her unique cupcakes, Dravis knew she had a commercial venture on her hands.
The retired flight attendant turned entrepreneur now operates Pattie’s Tiny Cakes, a growing Grand Junction operation that bakes and sells a wide assortment of gourmet cupcakes and cakes for individual orders and special events.
Dravis has twice won the award for best sweet treat at Taste of the Grand Valley, an annual fund-raiser for United Way of Mesa County that showcases the local food service industry.
Dravis also gained a measure of fame about a year ago when she battled in an episode of “Cupcake Wars,” the baking competition show on the Food Network. Although she didn’t win, Dravis says she enjoyed what she says was both a fun and stressful experience.
While Dravis strives to deliver top-notch service in her business, she says her chief advantage remains a matter of taste that results from fresh ingredients and products made from scratch. “I’m not your usual cupcake. I’m so different with my product.”
It’s a difference on which she hopes to literally capitalize as her year-over-year sales increase sometimes by a factor of six or seven, she says.
Dravis has operated Pattie’s Tiny Cakes for about three years, the last 18 months out of a fully licensed commercial kitchen she had installed in her home on the Redlands.
While the kitchen is small, it’s efficient, Dravis says, with her ingredients and huge collection of edible decorations all within easy reach. Her oven can bake a batch of 240 mini cupcakes in only seven minutes. Moreover, Dravis says having a commercial kitchen enables her to sell her products to the caterers that constitute a large part of her customer base.
The business sells regular-sized and what are billed as bite-sized “tiny” cupcakes in orders of a dozen or two dozen regular-sized cupcakes and 70 tiny cupcakes. The cupcakes all feature fillings, whipped cream frosting and edible decorations.
Dravis offers an eclectic variety of flavors, including a decadent dessert made with seven layers of different chocolates; a fruit cake that features orange cake, raspberry filling and pineapple frosting and what she calls a luau that features rum cake, coconut cream filling and pineapple frosting. A popular margarita cupcake comes complete with a pinch of salt on the top. Dravis has come up with gluten-free options as well, including chocolate peanut butter and oatmeal banana.
Dravis is happy to accommodate requests. “If you come up with a flavor I’ve never done, I’ll do it.”
Dravis says she makes all of her cakes from scratch, not mixes. “If you’re a baker, you don’t do this from boxes.”
She also uses fresh ingredients rather than artificial flavorings whenever possible.
Dravis delivers her cupcakes for free to many areas of the Grand Valley, but charges for delivery to other areas.
Dravis sells many of her products as individual orders purchased and delivered to family members and friends in much the same way people order flowers. Many of her customers are parents who order cupcakes for children attending Colorado Mesa University, she says.
Dravis says her cupcakes can last for a week if they’re refrigerated and also can be frozen and thawed for later use. But storage is seldom an issue for hungry customers, she says. “Usually, they don’t last that long.”
Dravis also sells many of her products for special events, including parties and weddings. For weddings, she can can provide a large cake for the bride and groom to cut and eat and matching cupcakes for the guests. The cupcakes are not only more convenient to serve, but can come in different flavors than the wedding cake, she says.
In response to growing demand for specialty cakes, Dravis has brought on Amber Martinez to decorate cakes. Marge Eggers has joined the operation as well to help with other baking duties.
While Dravis has considered the possibility of opening a storefront to sell her products, she says she prefers for now to continue working from her commercial kitchen at home to keep her expenses, and therefore prices, lower. Dravis hopes, however, to someday purchase a van to help with deliveries.
While Dravis was more interested — at least initially — in baking a better cupcake than going into business, she says she likes what is in essence getting paid for something she enjoys. “I’m having a blast doing it.”
For more information about Pattie’s Tiny Cakes, visit www.PattiesTinyCakes.com or call 201-6165.