Lila Owens Expands the Cupcakin’ Bake Shop Empire

Unusual flavors and lovely presentation distinguish these small, sweet wonders.


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Photo by Lori Eanes

Midnight-dark chocolate icing with circus-hued sprinkles spangling its satiny sides and a single blue dot crowning its top. Fresh blueberries nested in perfect white-frosting rosettes. Zigzag drizzles of golden caramel. Sky-blue frosting swirling skyward, flecked with candy pearls.

These and other distinctive designs set Lila Owens’ cupcakes apart.

“Wherever you see our cupcakes, you can tell that they’re ours,” said Owens, an Oakland native and Skyline High School grad whose Cupcakin’ Bake Shop expanded into two new locations late this year.

“Cupcakes have always been my favorite dessert — even before they became trendy,” Owens said. “I like the idea that each cupcake is a personal treat. I like the presentation of them, the design. As an adult, I feel nostalgic about cupcakes, but also excited.”

She had baked them for years as a hobby before launching a home-based dessert-catering business in 2007.

From the outset, “I focused on unique flavors” — such as cookies ’n’ cream, caramel mocha, Key lime pie, gluten-free raspberry-chocolate chip, and vegan chocolate-chai — “but also balance: I wanted them to taste really good and present really well, so that they wouldn’t just look pretty. They’d actually be very good to eat.”

After taking business-management courses, the Howard University alumna launched a brick-and-mortar shop near the UC Berkeley campus in 2014. This year, she moved that flagship location to another, “more central” space on Telegraph Avenue. She also launched a new Cupcakin’ Bake Shop in Oakland’s historic Swan’s Market.

“Now, people from Oakland who have been supporting me all this time won’t have to drive so far” for her cupcakes and full-sized cakes, including Oakland-specific varieties such as maple-bourbon-bacon.

She also finalized her plans to open a third location this winter in the sunny Gourmet Ghetto corner space formerly occupied by iconic Virginia Bakery. Having visited that 65-year-old bakeshop often before its owners, the Erdmann family, announced its impending closure, “I started sensing that it was getting ready to transition.

“As soon as I heard that it was closing, I drove over to speak with the Erdmanns. I was the first one at the door when they opened that morning. I wanted to walk around, see the space, feel its energy, and see if I could envision myself taking over.”

With its large kitchen, set to become the commissary kitchen for all three bakeries and Owens’ catering business, the 3,725-square-foot space “seemed like the perfect opportunity for me.”

Cupcakin’ Bake Shop, 2391 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-529-4448, CupcakinBakeShop.com.

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