North Richland Hills store wins battle on Cupcake Wars television show

Posted Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Three years ago, Nicole Ward’s goal of opening a premier cake shop seemed like only a butter cream dream, but today, success is even sweeter.

Why? Ward and her Sinsational Cakes team from North Richland Hills are savoring a national win on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars competition.

They brought home $10,000, bragging rights and best of all, increased store traffic.

“I saw them on the news, and I told my wife, ‘That’s the place right around the corner!’” said Mark Fisher, who came around last week to pop his head in the door and express his congratulations.

Though their triumph actually happened during taping of Cupcake Wars last summer, they were forbidden to tell anyone the results before the episode aired Nov. 2 on the Food Network.

Childhood dream

Sinsational Cakes opened at 5750 Davis Drive in North Richland Hills on July 2011.

It was the cherry on the top of Ward’s years of struggle.

“I did cakes in my apartment for 15 years,” said Ward, who studied cosmetology in school before realizing that the cooking and baking she did as a child had influenced her true calling as a cake baker.

She started culinary school at the Art Institute of Dallas in 1991 and has worked in food services at the Grand Hyatt DFW and AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Business at Sinsational Cakes was good the first six months but began to slow.

“Our customers kept asking us when we were going to be on” Cupcake Wars, Ward said. “We needed a big break.”

Every week, Cupcake Wars pits four top cupcake bakers from across the country in three elimination bake-off rounds until one is left to clean up.

Competition is stiff just to get on the show.

“It was intense competition,” said Ward’s sister, Sonjii Jones, her partner in the shop. “We did a Western-themed audition, where we made the cupcakes to music of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

They had applied for a spot during an earlier season of the show but weren’t selected. Then, out of the blue, they received an email from the Cupcake Wars producers, inviting them to tape an episode of the show in June.

Bake-off battle

Ward arrived in Los Angeles on June 21, ready to do bake-off battle. She competed against three other bakers, two Bay Area teams from California and a team from Fredericksburg, Va.

They shot three rounds in one day. First round was 45 minutes long and focused on taste of the cupcake. Ward debuted her zinger — the imaginative Sharp Cheddar Ham cupcake, with dried cherries and green onions, plus candied ham nuggets on the cream cheese frosting.

The second round was an hour and 30 minutes and contestants had to bake a dozen cupcakes in three flavors. Ward whipped up her Cherry Cobbler, Lemon Cheesecake and Black Forest cupcakes.

Final round was two hours, during which contestants had to bake 1,000 cupcakes of all four kinds and build an effective display for them.

“We never had the chance to practice our time, so we prayed a bit,” Ward admitted.

The hardest thing was keeping quiet about the win once they were back home, Ward said.

Booming business

Once the show aired and word got out, Sinsational Cakes stayed open the next day (a Sunday) from noon to 4 p.m. and the sisters enjoyed a 200 percent increase in business.

On Nov. 4, Ward and Jones took their cupcake act on the road, back to their old high school, Trimble Tech in Fort Worth.

They demonstrated the Sharp Cheddar Ham cupcake for the school’s culinary department and told the students to hold onto their dreams and work hard to make them happen.

Ward’s own aspirations include opening a second location of Sinsational Cakes, operating a cupcake food truck and adding workers to her four-employee staff.

What really sells a cupcake, especially a Sinsational cupcake?

“People always say it’s the icing,” Ward said. She does butter cream, almond and cream cheese icings.

Now that more people know where the shop is, Ward isn’t relaxing and resting on the Cupcake Wars win. She is busy on the seasonal pies, cakes and breads that make for a memorable Thanksgiving.

“I still do my 12- to 15-hour days, but it’s all worth it,” she said, “If you have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins

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