Cupcake Emporium puts unique into all categories

Cupcake Emporium is located on Main Street and offers over 90 different flavors of cupcakes.

Frances Myers

Walking in, the atmosphere feels like something out of the ‘50s. Oldies music plays in the background, just loud enough to be heard but not at a distracting level. The smells of chocolate and peanut butter waft through the air, luring customers to a display case filled with rows upon rows of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes topped with frosting, sprinkles, caramel, peanut butter cups and cherries.

The style of the place is unique, just the way the owner, Tawnya Zerr, likes it.

“I definitely didn’t want a place where a guy would come in and feel like he had to hurry up in here and get out of here,” Zerr said. “I didn’t want a pink place like most of the cupcake places are.”

Everybody told her she was crazy to think such a thing could bring a profit.

But that did not stop Zerr from opening her own shop on Main Street in Ames. 

Now she is the proud owner of a thriving Cupcake Emporium.

“They thought I was crazy,” Zerr said. “I mean, now cupcakes are everywhere, but two and a half years ago, it wasn’t in the Midwest at all yet. I remember telling people at church and they were like, ‘Ooh what are you doing? Well, you know Johnny just lost his job.’ That’s all I ever heard was, ‘Oh that’s not smart.’”

Graduating from Des Moines Area Community College with a degree in welding, baking may not be the first thing that comes to mind when utilizing such a degree, but baking had become a hobby of Zerr’s while in college.

“Once I went to college, I got sick of noodles within a month,” Zerr said. “So I started trying to figure out how to make my own food. From there I started realizing that homemade things were much better than store bought things. So I started getting pickier and pickier and then I only wanted fresh, homemade things.”

When Zerr opened up the Cupcake Emporium, she started with around 30 different flavors of cupcakes. Now she has over 90 different flavors. There are the typical flavors such as red velvet, chocolate and vanilla. Then there are more unique ones, such as pink champagne, peanut butter and jelly, beer, and dirt and worms.

“We pride ourselves in actually having cupcakes that taste like the flavor they are,” Zerr said. “It started with the fairly easy flavors most stores have. From there, I just kept thinking of more and more things. I’d see something at the store and think, ‘How can I make that into a cupcake?’”

Sara Johnson, sophomore in event management, started working at the Cupcake Emporium in July 2011. She said the business caught her eye because it “wasn’t a corporation.”

“I like how it’s unique to itself,” Johnson said. “There’s not many places like it, and that threw me in. I heard about it my freshman year, and it had just opened pretty recently. I was looking for a job, and

I thought Main Street would be the perfect place to find a job. It was pretty funky, and I liked that.”

Johnson had aspirations of opening her own cupcake shop when she was in high school.

“Since working at the Cupcake Emporium, I’ve realized how much work is put into it. Tawnya is great to work for, and I see everything she puts into it. She’s taught me a lot,” Johnson said. “It’s been a great experience, but I realize now that having my own business isn’t necessarily something I want to do.”

Since opening, the Cupcake Emporium has been asked three times to audition for the popular television reality show Cupcake Wars. 

The first time, the shop had just opened so they were unable to make the deadline for submitting a video. The second time, the Emporium made the deadline but was taken out of the running because the show was looking for bakers who utilized molecular gastronomy, or “the application or study of scientific principles and practices in cooking and food preparation.”

The Emporium auditioned for the third time this year and is currently waiting to hear back from the show.

Zerr said the next thing she hopes to do is to expand the store.

“We need a bigger place. Weekends are crazy here with all the orders. We definitely need another oven, and we definitely need three times the space in the back. So that’s what we’re looking for next is either knocking down a wall or finding a new place.”