Simply Divine Cupcakery
- Josh Tuck
- Josh Tuck
Chauncey Ness is not the type of girl who backs down from a challenge. At 25 she is double majoring in Public Advocacy and Political Science; she is getting married in three months; she volunteers at the YWCA; and this past January, she started Simply Devine Cupcakery in Huntington, Indiana. When I was twenty five, I was blowing all my money on DVDs and aftermarket car parts, drinking as many Manhattans at Club Soda as my liver could endure, and spending my weekends at my parents house doing laundry. If I had been half as ambitious and motivated as Chauncey, I’d probably be well on my way to retirement. Chauncey, on the other hand, is just getting warmed up and she is concentrating every ounce of her seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy on making the best made-from-scratch-cupcakes you can find anywhere.
“I’m the type of person that once I start something, “I give it 150%,” Chauncey says. It was just last summer, while she and her boyfriend were vacationing in St. Joe, Michigan, she was inspired to go into business for herself. At the farmers’ market, she saw a lady selling cupcakes and thought, “That is a really good idea.” Not the cupcakes themselves, she knew they were a huge trend, but rather the business model of selling them at farmers’ markets and for special events. Doing that would allow her to do something she loved, and do it to her exacting specifications. As soon as they returned home, she started her research. She found that no one in the area was making cupcakes exclusively and realized, “I better get on this before anyone else does.”
Over the next six months, she made her business plan, found an accountant, set up her business, and developed and tested her recipes as she continued with college. By the time January of this year arrived, she took her first orders. When we conducted this interview earlier in April, she had as many orders as she could fill. Needless to say, she was desperately looking forward to being done with school.
Chauncey knows the cupcake market is highly competitive and understands she need to differentiate herself from the crowd. For her, this means baking from scratch and using real ingredients. She did a lot of research on ingredients and where they would come from because she didn’t want any of them to contain hormones or antibiotics. “I read so many things about how they are linked to heart disease and cancer,” she said. Because of this, her cupcakes are made from real butter and other organic and local ingredients, such as farm fresh eggs and milk. She also tested many varieties of all the other ingredients she uses, from cocoa powder to vanilla beans.
After a solid month of figuring out what ingredients she would be using and where they were coming from, she began developing and testing her recipes. Every one of her cupcakes is her own unique creation, and she makes each flavor from scratch. She learned to bake this way while working at Elizabeth’s Tea Room in Huntington, and can not imagine doing it any other way. If a cupcake calls for raspberry frosting, she said, “It is made with real, organic, fresh raspberries.”
To get her cupcakes perfect, she enlisted the help of about thirty or forty taste-testers. Some of them were family and friends, but she mostly relied on the input from friends of friends and her family’s co-workers. “Sometimes family, you know, they love you so much, they don’t give you their honest opinion," she said, laughing, “So, I wanted to be sure I was getting honest opinions.” Even though the feedback wasn’t always what she wanted to hear, she credits her testers honest opinions with getting her recipes to where they are today.
A Taste For Every Occasion
The other factor that Chauncey feels gives her a competitive edge is the three tiers of cupcakes she makes; Simply, Divine, and Spirited. The Simply line consists of more traditional flavors like the yellow cake and chocolate icing of the Piece of Cake, and the carrot cake with cinnamon icing of the 24 Carrot. The Divine cupcakes get a little more adventurous and feature flavors like Vanilla Chai, Orange Pumpkin, and the mint chocolate Grasshopper. If you want actual grasshoppers in your cupcakes, you’ll have to add them yourself. Finally, her Spirited line is, as far as she can tell, unique to this region. It includes cupcakes like Double Caife Gaelach and Rum & Coke contain splashes of Bailey’s Irish Cream and rum, respectively.
Because she does not have a store-front and does not sell her cupcakes through at other retail venues, Chauncey was free to set up Simply Devine exactly how she wanted it. For weddings, Chauncy will make ceremonial cutting cakes if requested, but otherwise she takes pride in making only her two dozen or so varieties of cupcakes. Even though she is just starting out, she is already giving back to her community. To follow through on her public advocacy and civic involvement education, she regularly donates cupcakes to charity events.
“You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me.”
As if school, a fast approaching wedding day, and starting a business wasn’t enough; life decided to throw her a curve ball. Two months after starting her business, she was diagnosed as celiac. For about a day, she was in shock. However, believing that everything happens for a reason, she said, “I sucked it up and moved on, I knew I could still do this." Instead of abandoning her dream, she took her diagnosis as a sign to start making gluten-free cupcakes as part of her business.
She is currently working on gluten-free recipes based on her original recipes. She read that the biggest complaint about the gluten-free cupcakes currently available is that they have a texture akin to cornbread. “I have a couple of secret ingredients to fix that though,” Chauncey said. Her goal is for her gluten-free cupcakes to be virtually indistinguishable from her gluten versions. “Gluten-free is not about excluding an ingredient,” she says, “it’s about finding suitable replacements.” If all goes according to plan, she will have five or six flavors ready this summer.
For now, Chauncey is doing all of her cooking in the simple and cramped kitchen in the back of Elizabeth’s Teahouse in her hometown of Huntington Indiana. She works with little counter space, basic equipment, a single domestic grade oven that has seen better days, and she does all her dishes by hand. Once her business picks up she will look at moving into a different space, but for now, she is happy where she is. Despite being well worn, she likes the cozy, old-fashioned feel of this kitchen and hopes to someday bring it’s style and charm to a professional kitchen of her own.
To achieve that goal, this summer she will be selling her cupcakes at farmers’ markets in Roanoke, Columbia City, and Fort Wayne in addition to filling orders for events and special occasions. More than the kitchen, she is looking forward to having her own food truck. For Chauncey, it’s important to be able to get into some of the outlying communities. She says, “I want the flexibility to go anywhere.” Ultimately, she is focused on keeping Simply Divine Cupcakery a local business. She grew up in Huntington and is a self-professed small town girl. She knows, “If you keep it local, it says something important to your customers.” We couldn’t agree more.
Monday - Friday: 9:00am - 6:00pm
Saturday: 1:00pm - 5:00pm