“Just ding the bell when you’re ready and they’ll come out and serve you,” Maree Rolfe indicates across the room to a small silver bell that sits atop of a glass counter filled with beautiful, gourmet cupcakes.
Maree herself wears black with her dark hair tied back. The owner, operator, and head chef of Sweeter than Sugar is easy and conversational between the pink and white striped walls of her cupcake parlour on Charters Towers Road.
“I did always have the pink and white stripes as a signature thing in mind. It took me a long time to find a location. Probably close to a year of looking for the right spot and when this space came up I said ‘wow, that couldn’t be more perfect.’”
Before moving into her shop front location, Maree would take orders and work from home baking, decorating, and creating edible masterpieces.
What started as just cupcakes for colleagues, work, and family, and some pink rose inspired cupcakes for her daughter Ella’s first birthday; has become a successful independently owned business.
“Friends at the party were impressed and kept saying the cupcakes were great, I thought ‘they’re just cupcakes.’ Then they started asking if I could make things for their kids’ birthdays, and things for their friends as well. It went from there with friends of friends, and then total strangers were asking.”
After about six months, Maree took a gamble throwing in her part time job to pursue baking; and it paid off. After another two years of working registered at home, she took another giant leap into opening a shop front.
Maree signed the lease in October 2011 and after six weeks of renovating the store was open that November.
On their first operating weekend, Sweeter than Sugar sold over 1200 cupcakes.
“It was exciting but also didn’t seem real. It felt very surreal. Even now people are like, ‘wow, you own your own shop’ and I’m like, ‘yeah, I don’t sleep.’”
Sweeter Than Sugar’s popularity and success has in no way slighted Maree’s vision and ambitions for the store, since opening her business she has forged strong relationships with various charities and organisations, working closely in particular with the Cancer Council.
“Last year I was invited to be the North Queensland ambassador of hope for the cancer council. They felt I was a positive influence and example of ‘the healthy lifestyle,’ well, as much as you can be in a cupcake shop.”
“Sweeter than Sugar was always going to be about giving back and helping others. A lot of people don’t know it, but that was part of the name. It was always meant to be a sort of double entendre thing; it wasn’t just sugar meaning cupcakes, it was the sweet how you say somebody is sweet.
As she talks about supporting ‘Childhood Cancer Awareness Month’ in September, Maree has a ‘light bulb moment’ inspired by the idea of gold cupcakes (the colour of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month).
“What we normally do is we turn our ‘vanilla’ into the flavour. So instead of our signature vanilla with the pink paper and pink flower what I was going to do was a gold paper with a gold ball on the flower. Now, I might do a golden rough, a chocolate golden rough, golden rough for September. There you go.”
With close to 100 different flavours, Maree is inspired by various things to create inventive cupcake flavours such as ‘Rocky Road,’ ‘Bubblegum,’ and ‘Cosmopolitan.’
2014 marks the third birthday of Sweeter Than Sugar, and Maree has no intention of slowing down, even aspiring to eventually move onto ‘bigger and better things.’
“Ideally I would like to further the business in some ways. Completing my vision of how I want everything to look and run. But I’ll still want more. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied, I’ve always got room for improvement.”
“I’ve definitely learnt a lot about life and business in general, it’s not as simple as I thought it would be. But about myself, I’ve learnt not to limit myself and be more confident in what I do. Just to trust myself and challenge myself positively.”