Cupcake Wars winner Abby Jimenez brings her award-winning Nadia Cakes to Maple Grove.
Earlier this year, as Abby Jimenez and her family were getting settled into their new Champlin home following a move from California, Jimenez engaged in a popular mid-winter Minnesota hobby: she baked. Banana cake, cookies and of course, cupcakes—treats she sent to school with her oldest daughters, Naomi, 7, and Nadia, 6, or simply bestowed upon lucky neighbors, fresh from the kitchen of a Food Network “Cupcake Wars” champion.
Maple Grove, consider Abby Jimenez your favorite new neighbor. In May, she and her talented staff opened the second Nadia Cakes shop in the United States at The Fountains at Arbor Lakes, featuring custom-made cakes, cupcakes (with more than 135 flavors in their repertoire), cookies, macaroons, trifles and even ice-cream cupcakes.
In 2009, Jimenez launched her first highly successful store—Nadia Cakes, her middle daughter’s nickname—in Palmdale, California (outside Los Angeles) after two years spent churning out delicious baked goods from a home-based business.
“I have always loved to bake. I first started baking cakes and cupcakes when I was on maternity leave and took the first cake decorating class I’d ever taken at Michael’s,” says Jimenez, who along with husband Carlos, now CFO of Nadia Cakes, has an extensive retail background. “My business started to grow and I knew I was on to a good thing, so we invested everything we had to open our Palmdale store.”
When the time came to consider a second Nadia Cakes location, the couple’s search led them surprisingly to Minnesota.
“There are a lot of cupcake shops in California. In fact, another “Cupcake Wars” winner has a bakery less than three miles from our Palmdale store,” she says. “We decided if we were going to move, we wanted to be someplace where we really wanted to raise our family.”
Last summer the Jimenez clan, which also includes four-year-old daughter Maya and Carlos’s son, Noah, 10, literally hit the road to scout locations. They considered 23 states in all, including New York City and the Washington, D.C./Virginia area where Abby has family.
“Carlos used to work with Room and Board, so he spent time here in Minnesota and always heard what a great place it is to raise kids,” she says.
The Maple Grove location for Nadia Cakes is also a perfect fit and extremely compatible with the vibe the owners want to create in the community. “We’re not an urban bakery. We want to serve the soccer moms, the brides planning a wedding, people looking for a special dessert,” she says.
Nadia Cakes at The Fountains at Arbor Lakes is approximately 2,200 square feet, almost twice the size of the Palmdale store. Surrounded by windows in the café seating area (where coffee and cupcakes can be enjoyed on-site), the shop features a huge glass-enclosed cupcake case, chandelier, three-sided fireplace and a private area (complete with antique sofa) for customers to discuss special orders with a baker. According to Jimenez, this new location contains “pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a store.”
Due to the extreme popularity of the original Nadia Cakes, Jimenez attracted national attention. She was on TLC’s “Fabulous Cakes” twice, which eventually resulted in an invitation to be a contestant on an episode of “Cupcake Wars”. On the episode which aired in early January, she and her head pastry chef, Randi Valenzuela, were declared the winners of the $10,000 prize.
Cupcake contests are not all sweetness and light, as Jimenez and Valenzuela discovered during their “Cupcake Wars” experience. Not only did they not know who they were going to compete against until the day of filming, they were instructed not to speak to their competitors backstage and to make sure, a member of the production team escorted them every time they went back and forth between the kitchen area and their dressing room.
“This is a legitimate competition. The judges are very serious and they don’t even look at you until filming starts,” she says. “You’re working so hard. By the end of the day, I think I’d reapplied my make-up three times.”
Despite nerves and the pressure of a 14-hour day, Jimenez says by the third round, she felt confident about their victory. “When I saw our display, I started to cry because I knew we were going to win,” she says, adding with a laugh “I’m Sicilian, so I cry a lot.”
Judge Florian Bellanger, the Simon Cowell of the cupcake world, declared the Nadia Cakes cheesecake cupcake to be “one of the best cheesecake cupcakes he’s ever eaten”. Made with Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean, from-scratch pie crust, freshly made whipping cream and a triple-berry compote, Jimenez says it’s one of their most labor-intensive cupcakes, but a perennial customer favorite.
“We have a lot of hard-core fans,” she admits. “People really get addicted to all our cupcakes. We have a customer in Palmdale who buys a dozen every three days. We are open every day of the year except Christmas Day because our customers just have to have their cupcakes.”
Abby and Carlos Jimenez also made a name for themselves in Palmdale because of their extreme generosity toward the community. Kela Nagel, founder of the Southern California Cake Club and owner of Acton Bakery Supply, still gets emotional when she thinks about the Jimenez couple’s response to a local crisis and calls them “true friends of the community”.
“We had a widow in the community with five children. She and two of her kids were killed in an accident, leaving the other three without their parents,” says Nagel. “Abby donated cupcakes to a carwash to raise money and she also held a fundraiser at Nadia Cakes, raising more than $1,000. They’ve also brought cupcakes to shelters when people are displaced by the fires we have out here.”
“We’ve been lucky. We want to share,” she says.
Nadia Cakes, which made the “L.A. Hot List” last year, has more than 15,000 followers on Facebook, where Jimenez posts about flavor favorites (a daily menu is also available on the nadiacakes.com website). She takes pride in the custom desserts her talented bakers create, which even include some sugar-free and gluten-free options.
Assembling a new staff in Maple Grove—those she calls “the best of the best”—has been a fun challenge and Jimenez anticipates the store will begin to take custom orders in July after all the bakers have been trained in the Nadia Cakes method.
“We absolutely love it here. Our kids are so happy, our neighbors are great, and we are so excited about this new store,” she says. “We are here to stay. We’re never going back.”
Cupcakes at Nadia Cakes range in price from $2.95 to $3.25 each. A half-dozen package is $14.50 and a dozen cupcakes retail for $28.00. The store offers take-away fondant cakes (ranging from $35 to $65) and other desserts; visit Nadia Cakes for additional pricing information.