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It’s been almost eight weeks since Michelle Wilson Brown (’96) and Yolanda Baston (U-M ’95) opened Taste Love Cupcakes, a specialty bakery on the bustling main avenue of Royal Oak, Michigan. Brown and Baston couldn’t be happier, even though baking—and entrepreneurship, for that matter—weren’t always where they thought they’d end up. At U-M, Brown’s early passion was law, and Baston’s efforts were focused on her work-study job and her rigorous course load in the School of Business.
But the kitchen was never far. While in college both Brown and Baston continued to bake when they could, mostly on holidays for family and friends.
“I’d always loved baking,” says Brown. “When I was growing up I baked with my mom.”
After graduation, life took the two friends beyond Ann Arbor. Brown graduated from law school and was a practicing attorney in Michigan before moving to Las Vegas to work as general counsel for her father's construction company. Baston headed to Europe when her husband, former U-M basketball player Maceo Baston, joined the Euroleague. Over the years the Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters kept in touch, and when circumstances brought them both back to Metro Detroit in 2008, they knew it was time to start a project together.
“We felt a need in the area for a unique product made from scratch using high-quality ingredients,” says Brown.
Brown and Baston make their cupcakes using premium ingredients that are organic and locally sourced whenever possible. Their creations blend family recipes with concoctions of their own, and they’ve used some of their favorite tastes from childhood to develop unique cupcake flavors. One of Taste Love’s most popular cupcakes, for instance, is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, and then topped with brown sugar cream cheese frosting and homemade candied pecans. The inspiration for this confection? Sweet potato pie.
They spend countless hours tweaking their own recipes, but they’ve learned a lot about what they love—and what not to do, such as serving customers frozen cupcakes accidentally—by tasting cupcakes in places they’ve lived and have traveled to, and from the local competition.
“We sample [cupcakes] everywhere we go,” says Baston.
Beyond delectable flavors, Taste Love’s customers can order cupcakes baked, frosted, and sealed inside a glass half-pint jar, or request customized designs. So far they have created “Will you marry me?” cupcakes, Royal Wedding cupcakes, and cupcakes that parents-to-be have used to reveal their baby’s gender.
Baston and Brown hope to offer more than just dessert. The two see cupcakes as a small luxury, something special that people can treat themselves with, even if times are difficult.
Even with six young children between them, the two say they’ve been able to balance work and life while handling the stresses of starting a new business. They attribute part of their success to the skills they learned at U-M.
“We talk about Michigan all the time,” says Brown. “We’re very proud of our Michigan education. It taught us that you have to stay focused and be dedicated from day one, and it gave us the feeling that we could accomplish anything, even later in life as wives and moms.”
Brown and Baston dream of bigger opportunities for Taste Love, including having their cupcakes featured on the Food Network or OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. But in the meantime, the two plan to keep their focus on doing what they love—baking seriously delicious cupcakes—and exploring opportunities to expand their business.
“We would love to open a second location,” says Brown, “especially in Ann Arbor on campus.”
Cupcakes and Chardonnay
An adult beverage can be the perfect complement to a sweet treat, says Marlo Scott (M.B.A., '99), the owner of Sweet Revenge, a cupcake, beer, and wine bar in Manhattan’s West Village. Here are three of Scott’s favorite pairings:
Sweet Revenge: Scott’s namesake recipe is a peanut butter cupcake with a chocolate ganache center, peanut butter fudge frosting, and crumbled peanuts.
Pair it with a medium bodied red wine such as Jelu Malbec from Argentina, or a nutty German beer like Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss.
Dirty: A Valrhona chocolate cupcake with dark chocolate truffle.
Pair it with a light berry French wine such as C’est La Vie! Syrah Rosé, or a sweet and crisp Swedish beer like Kopparberg Pear Cider.
Crimson and Cream: A raspberry red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting, raspberry drizzle, and cinnamon dusting.
Pair it with a Raspberry Bellini cocktail or a creamy Scottish Belhaven beer.