Cupcake business is a family affair

On one cupcake, a bunny's back feet, ample behind and fluffy tail are all that can be glimpsed of the creature as it plunges down a rabbit hole.

Speckled robins' eggs and jelly beans sit atop knolls of bright green grass on other cupcakes, and a neon-colored marshmallow chick tops a fourth variety.

Created on mounds of butter cream frosting with a signature swirl, they are among the Easter offerings at Kupcakes & Co., an Elkridge bakery that produces 10,000 cupcakes a week.

Ninety specialty flavors such as Pancakes and Bacon, Strawberries and Champagne, and Salted Caramel rotate on the bakery's daily flavor calendar.

But at the three-year-old shop at Routes 100 and 103 on Meadowridge Center Drive there's more to the story than cupcakes, custom cakes and other baked goods.

Given its unusual genesis and the challenge for any small business to stay afloat, the shop could be considered fortunate to still be open, let alone thriving, says co-owner Michelle Kupiec.

The former kindergarten teacher has seen three nearby businesses close since her family's bakery opened in 2011. She and her husband, Bill, an information technology specialist, decided to start the "cupcakery," as they call it, a few years after one of their twin daughters, then 13, made the suggestion. It was a bold move, Kupiec concedes.

Amanda Kupiec was recovering from spinal fusion surgery to correct a severe curvature of the spine when she started watching food programs on cable TV under doctor's orders in an effort to rekindle her appetite after the operation.

After asking her mother if she would push her in a wheelchair to buy supplies to bake a specialty cake like one she had seen on "Ace of Cakes," Amanda began making cupcakes that friends wanted to order.

Soon after the requests started pouring in — and after the family baked cupcakes for a friend's food truck for a while — the idea to start a cupcake business was born.

"What Amanda went through could have broken us as family," says Michelle Kupiec, as she detailed the 57 X-rays taken to confirm 14 cases of pneumonia and the surgery in 2007 that left her daughter with two titanium rods and 18 screws in her back.

"That [experience] could've wrecked a lot in our lives, but Amanda is a true fighter," says Kupiec. "We're a close-knit family, and we found the good."

Now, three pink industrial mixers are humming in the bakery's kitchen six days a week. Betty 1 and Betty 2 can each mix 20 quarts of batter, and Bertha is a 60-quart mixer that can whip up enough batter to make 500 cupcakes at a time.

The "good" that her daughter inspired has spiraled into a booming business, Kupiec says.

Amanda, who was helped immensely through her years of health problems by her twin, Allison, is about to graduate with an associate's degree from the Culinary Institute of America and will rejoin the staff of 16 in May as a bona fide pastry chef.

Both twins, now 19, had worked at the bakery after school and on weekends during their years at Howard High School.

"I'm so excited to get Amanda on our team," Kupiec says. "Already she has suggested we offer bread-baking classes, and she wants to give back to Howard County General Hospital, where she'd spent so much time, by teaching kids to decorate cupcakes."

Amanda says her ordeal made her the person she is today.

"When I first started culinary school, I asked myself if I was doing the right thing," she says. "But it shows in everyone here through the way they teach that they love what they do, and that's helped me to know I made the right choice.

"Baking gives me a sense of relaxation" despite the early hours and hectic days, she says. "I don't think of it as work."