Culinary Creatives / Maureen Torpey and Kelly Audette
Photo by kc kratt
Nicknames: Only for Maureen: “It’s Mo; I usually forget to respond to Maureen!”
How many years in the food biz:10.5 each
Previous employers: Mo has a BA from Boston College in English and Irish studies and a master's from Buffalo State for contemporary lit. Before baking, she worked as an adjunct at Buffalo State and Niagara University teaching lit and writing. Kelly went to Cazenovia College and Buffalo State for communications, is mom to three, and previously worked as a stage and production manager for Indigo.
The cupcake boom of the late aughts has fizzled, and most of its local superstars have gone on to other things, but the always agile team of Mo Torpey and Kelly Audette have beaten the odds. By diversifying their business model and its offerings and through the use of ingenuity and teamwork, the women behind Fairycakes have made a challenging location work. In a Parkside neighborhood where other businesses have struggled to keep their doors open for more than a couple years, Fairycakes has not only survived but thrived. Add a recent win on The Cooking Channel, sprinkle with a few galaxy donuts, and it seems the duo have developed a recipe for success.
Fairycakes opened on Parkside in 2011, but we’ve seen small businesses come and go rather quickly in the blocks surrounding yours. To what do you attribute Fairycakes’ success in its location?
Torpey: We built relationships in the Parkside community. We work with the Zoo, the Olmsted Parks, the Darwin Martin House, and the Parkside Community Association. We grew up so close to here, and this is a neighborhood we love.
What’s different about Fairycakes today?
Audette: Today, we’re more efficient, we can put more variety out, we’re more confident in guiding people toward their best options.
Torpey: We definitely offer more: more sizes, more flavors, more products. We do full dessert tables for weddings and events. Kelly also makes killer macarons now, so we’re having fun coming up with flavors for those.
How have your expectations changed since you opened?
Torpey: I mean, everyone who opens a business like this dreams of lines around the corner every day, which isn’t always reasonable when it’s ten degrees out, and there are three feet of snow. But, I’m surprised by how good we’ve gotten at reading the city—we watch the weather, the other events that are going on in Buffalo, so we generally know what our day is going to be like.
Last December you guys won Cupcake Showdown on The Cooking Channel. Congratulations! How has that impacted your business?
Torpey: It’s surreal to have people from out-of-state visit see us because they saw us on Cupcake Showdown, and the amount of support we’ve received from everyone in this city—from family and friends, and from people I haven’t seen in years—was truly humbling. I would do it again, but I don’t know if I would be more or less nervous now that I know what to expect!
Audette: Duff (celebrity chef Goldman) wanting the recipe for the tahini buttercream we made was pretty sweet!
Business partnerships are hard, whether between married people, friends, or strangers. How do you guys make it work?
Torpey: We had a business coach who told us that partnerships between close friends are like a good marriage: homicide is possible, but divorce isn’t. We had some ups and downs in the beginning, but I’d definitely walk away from the business before I would ever walk away from our friendship. We have different strengths, and we balance each other out really well. And champagne.
What do you wish someone had told you about running a small business before you took the plunge?
Torpey: Taking some basic business classes would have helped hugely. We luckily had great friends who helped with that. Also, saying no to people is both really hard and sometimes really necessary.
Audette: Whatever you think something is going to cost when starting a business, and however long you think it’s going to take, just go ahead and double that.
What are Fairycakes’ top selling items?
Audette: Cookie Dough Cupcakes and, recently, our pop tarts.
Torpey: Year-round, it’s our Cookie Dough Cupcakes. In the fall, Double Crusted Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel does very well.
What’s the difference between doing business in Buffalo 2011 and doing business in Buffalo 2017?
Kelly: People in Buffalo are legit foodies now. They’re more adventurous and are willing to try new things. It lets us be more creative with our flavors.
Torpey: The food scene has really evolved in the past five-and-a-half years. When we first opened, people questioned our pricing daily. Now, I can’t remember the last time that happened. Customers definitely recognize that using quality ingredients and baking from scratch is more expensive and they’re willing to pay for it.
Assuming that momentum continues, where or what would you like to see happen in the next couple of years?
Audette: I live in the suburbs, and while the city of Buffalo has so many diverse and amazing restaurants, we have only a handful. I’d love to see some of the momentum in the food scene in Buffalo carry outside of the city.
Torpey: I love that more restaurants are focusing on desserts and hiring pastry chefs. There used to be nothing worse than being served frozen cheesecake or peanut butter pie after a great dinner. I’d love to see more homey, classic desserts on Buffalo menus. Can someone make us a quadruple-layer, sky-high Pollyanna cake?
Christa Glennie Seychew is the founder of Nickel City Chef and a longtime writer for Spree.