Couple quits high-paying jobs in US to sell cupcakes in Ahmedabad

Amar and Darshini Patel followed their hearts to start Buttercupp, which was the first authentic cupcake shop in Ahmedabad when it was launched in 2012. It clocks Rs 6 lakh in monthly revenues and the shelves get empty as rapidly as they fill up

Aruna Raghuram
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Amar and Darshini Patel, founders of Buttercupp

Amar and Darshini Patel, founders of Buttercupp

When Amar and Darshini Patel packed their bags and returned to India from the US in 2011, they had no idea how they were going to make a living. Amar, a mechanical engineer, and Darshini, an HR professional, had high-paying jobs that they enjoyed in the US. Yet, they returned to India to be with their families when they were at the peak of their careers. 

A gold medallist from Nirma University, Amar, 46, was picked up by global construction equipment giant, Caterpillar Inc. even before he completed his double masters. Darshini, 42, has a background in fine arts but studied labour management in the US. She was working for a large multinational company Cummins before coming to India. 

“It was an emotional decision to return to India. When we came back, family was worried about us and friends assumed we had lost our jobs in the US. We had no family business to fall back upon in India," says Amar.

"One day, Darshini made an orange bundt cake that I found delicious. That’s when the idea came to me that she should pursue baking professionally and start a bakery,” he adds. 

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Darshini’s immediate reaction was that she did not want to be in the kitchen all day! She wanted to work in HR. But it just happened that she plunged into baking. It was a bold decision to invest all their savings in Buttercupp, but it has paid off.  

Overwhelming response

Amar was planning to work in the technology sector. However, the initial response to Buttercupp was so overwhelming that it changed his plans. They would sell 500 cupcakes daily when the bakery opened its doors in 2012. “Darshini needed my help at the counter, to deal with customers and manage procurement and finances. That’s how I joined the business,” says Amar with a smile.

Buttercupp offers cupcakes, brownies, bundt cakes, cheesecakes, tiramisu and biscuits. Pic: Buttercupp
Some of the flavours include chocolate vanilla, oreo, classic vanilla and chocolate hazelnut. Pic: Buttercupp

When asked about revenue figures, Amar says: “Our growth has been steady over the last 12 years. The monthly revenue is around Rs 6 lakh and is enough to sustain the business. We have relied on word-of-mouth publicity to grow our business.”

Buttercupp has not tied up with delivery partners. The reason is that most flavours get sold out very fast. Instead, customers call and place an order and get the cupcakes picked up using delivery apps.

There is just one outlet of Buttercupp. The reason is two-fold. One, the couple don’t want to compromise on quality. Two, they are very particular about maintaining work-life balance and spending time with their parents and two young daughters. Buttercupp opens at 2 pm, Monday to Saturday. The store closes when stocks run out at around 8-8.30 pm.

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Flair for baking

Darshini’s flair for baking goes back a long way. “My mother lived in Kenya for many years. The family came back to settle in Vadodara. I grew up with the smell of freshly baked cakes and cookies in my home. My passion for baking comes from my mother and I use her recipe for pound cake – a delicious, rich, vanilla-flavoured cake, native to England, which contains one pound each of flour, butter, sugar and eggs,” she says.      

On offer at Buttercupp are at least 12 varieties of freshly baked cupcakes, brownies, bundt cakes, cheesecakes, tiramisu (recently introduced), and two varieties of biscuits – butter and orange.

“I was determined to bring orange biscuits on the shelves of Buttercupp as it was a childhood favourite. My mother would buy Britannia Delite biscuits for me to take to school,” says Amar.

Some of the cupcake varieties are chocolate vanilla, oreo, classic vanilla, chocolate hazelnut, mango (in season), chocolate mango, red velvet, banana chocolate (whole wheat), banana cheesecake honey (whole wheat), dark chocolate with caramel, brownie cupcake, mom’s pound cake and lemon blueberry. Most cupcakes are priced at Rs 90. 

Darshini at the store. Pic: Buttercupp

Mango, jamun, Kashmir apple and banana are among the fruits used in the cupcakes. They have an interesting gluten-free product - chocolate torte (without flour or added sugar). More than 70% content in the butter biscuits is whole wheat. 

Esha Shah, a corporate behavioural trainer, has been a regular customer of Buttercupp since the day it opened. “I love their cupcakes and brownies. There was a point when I could have three cupcakes in a go. Now I buy once a week. I trust the products because of the ingredients they use. I am comfortable with my toddler eating them,” says Esha.  

Two major USPs 

What’s special about Buttercupp? “One of our USPs is that we bake fresh daily and close the shop when we sell out. Two, we use high-quality ingredients, some imported. We import the brown cupcake liners to this day. We only use the imported Belgian chocolate brand Callebaut in our products. Another ingredient we import is cold-pressed orange oil. It would be a whole lot cheaper and much less of a hassle to buy locally, but we are firm as quality is the key to our success,” explains Amar.  

Any sugar-free, low-fat products? “No. Sugar and butter are critical components. We use only butter. Hence the name Buttercupp,” says Amar with a laugh.

staff of buttercupp
Amar and Darshini Patel with their children and staff of Buttercupp. Pic: Buttercupp

They do not use hydrogenated fats, chemicals - artificial colours, stabilizers, whiteners or preservatives. The outlet offers whole wheat and egg-less variants. There are no sugar-free options as they don’t believe in using artificial sweeteners.

“We get a bad reputation being in the bakery business but we don’t claim to make health food. Obviously, cupcakes are an indulgence you cannot eat regularly for health reasons. But by using good fats and avoiding chemicals we make as healthy a sugar-based product as possible. We use real fruit. For instance, our banana cake contains real banana, not essence and our orange biscuits contain orange oil, not essence,” the woman entrepreneur explains. 

Informal work culture

Having lived in the US, both Amar and Darshini clean dishes and mop the floor at their store when required. “We expect a similar attitude from our staff. Our work culture is informal and we work well as a small, close-knit team of around eight including Darshini and me. While Darshini’s domain is the kitchen assisted by four others, I manage the rest of the business with two others to help me,” says Amar. 

Darshini gives full credit to her team. “My team has played an integral part in our 12 years of success. It would not have been possible without all of my people working in unison to make our dream come true,” she says. 

darshini with staff
Darshini with some staff members of Buttercupp. Pic: Buttercupp 

Fatahlal Rebari has worked with Buttercupp from the beginning. “I am married with two children and I am the sole earning member of the family. I work for eight hours and my role is helping Ma’am in the kitchen. Beyond pay, I like working here because of the respect I get from Sir and Ma’am. They have guided me through the ups and downs of life and treat me like a family member,” says Fatahlal.    

Hiccups along the way

“We did not know anything about the food business. We have learnt a lot in the past 12 years. Suppliers would try to persuade us to buy large quantities of ingredients saying they would go out of stock. We would do that and it would lead to wastage once the products crossed the expiry date. I had to write off the losses. We are now alert and do not over-purchase. Another constant struggle is making suppliers understand our expectations,” says Amar.

When they started, Buttercupp was hailed as the first authentic cupcake store in Ahmedabad. Now there are competitors. How do they handle competition? “I never look at anything as competition,” says Amar without a trace of arrogance. 

“We focus on our products. I ask myself: ‘Is this something we enjoy eating?’ If the answer is yes, we have it in our store. We don’t make items because others are doing so,” he says. That’s probably another reason why Buttercupp has retained its exclusivity even today.     

Orange biscuits
Orange biscuits at Buttercupp. Pic: Buttercupp

Buttercupp follows eco-friendly practices in two ways. They use paper bags, plates and wooden spoons for packaging and serving.  Also, they minimise waste by using leftover batter to make mini cupcakes and sell them. Many people prefer mini cupcakes (bite-sized portions) for their children or themselves, says Amar. Proper planning also minimises waste. 

While the focus is on B2C business, biscuits are supplied to other retailers. Products are sold only in Ahmedabad since they are delicate items and have a limited shelf life. 

About their journey, Darshini has this to say: “There is a perception that people take up cooking or baking because they are struggling financially. These are professions not thought of highly. Many people ask us why we are in this business when we are so well-educated. But growth has been good. We started with one shop. We then bought the shop next door.  We have not had to ask our family members for financial help.”

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Ahmedabad. She writes on women’s issues, environment, DEI issues, and social/development enterprises.)

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