Trapped in office jobs they hated, one day sisters Mesha and Shay Cousins took an extended lunch break and locked themselves in their car, vowing not to leave the vehicle until they had thought of a new career path for themselves. After three straight hours of brainstorming and discussion, they finally had a concept they felt confident could rescue them from corporate America: a boozy cupcake bakery.
The co-owners and operators of Tipsy Cupcakes in Carytown spent three years acquiring their baking prowess and building out the business before they were ready to leave their office jobs and open a brick-and-mortar bakery in June of 2019. As if teaching themselves how to bake weren’t hard enough, the duo also had to learn how to infuse their cupcakes with potent potables without violating Virginia’s notoriously stodgy alcohol laws.
“When we first started there wasn’t a real law to govern how to put alcohol into foods because no one had done this before,” explains Shay. “Any product containing more than 5% alcohol used to be considered a beverage which a cupcake clearly is not. Eventually we had to take our cupcakes to the lab to figure out the real percentage of alcohol inside. It was not an easy journey.”
To comply with the commonwealth’s alcohol laws, the sisters bake up two kinds of cupcakes. The standard cupcakes contain less than 5% alcohol and face few restrictions on their sale. Jumbo cupcakes boast 5% alcohol content and are not allowed to be eaten on the premises, even if the sisters hadn’t closed the inside of the shop to the public to protect everyone’s health from COVID-19.
No matter which kind of cupcake you order, the sisters only sell up to six at a time to keep batches small and better ensure they can serve each item tasting and looking its best. “We decorate each cupcake and hand drizzle our finishing touches at the time you place your order, so that every cupcake is as fresh as possible for our customers,” adds Mesha.
Although the duo receives large orders for almost every holiday, as well as for the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience in March, Valentine’s Day is one of their biggest sales occasions due to the festive flavors they roll out each year. Locals looking to impress their lovers can order a jumbo red velvet cupcake filled with Hennessey cognac, covered with buttercream icing and topped with a caramel cinnamon drizzle and red velvet cake shavings. Those feeling something fruitier can go with the sisters’ twisted take on strawberry shortcake – a vanilla cupcake with strawberry vodka filling inside and coated with buttercream and a strawberry vodka drizzle to boot.
If the sight of so much red and pink makes you uncomfortable, Mesha and Shay serve up nearly a dozen other flavors. One of Tipsy Cupcakes’ best selling creations features a lemon cake base, Patron tequila, and lemon-lime icing finished with a sprinkle of salt and a lime wedge to emulate your favorite margarita. Another popular menu item is the marble — a vanilla and chocolate swirl cake base coated in light chocolate frosting and topped with a chocolate drizzle. The 151 proof rum inside easily makes the marble the most potent cupcake on the menu.
For the easiest ordering possible, the sisters suggest folks order online. With so much baking and decorating to do, Mesha and Shay admit they often can’t answer every call. With their online orders customers will simply receive an email notification that their order is ready when it’s time for pick up.
Although Tipsy Cupcakes is famous for boozy baked goods, it also offers virgin versions of all of the flavors as well. Also, if you see an item on their menu you like but would prefer a different liquor, the sisters can make that happen for you.
Their willingness to customize their creations to customers’ tastes is an offer they extend to restaurants as well. They hope to soon launch signature boozy cupcake flavors for local restaurants that would be exclusive to their location. “Our goal is to eventually have several locations around the Richmond area and then branch out across the nation,” says Shay. “We want to partner with local restaurants to serve their dessert menu and one day, offer our cupcakes at grocery stores.”
After five-and-a-half years in business, the sisters cannot believe the plans they hatched on a long lunch break have finally come to fruition. As one of the few Black woman-owned businesses in Carytown, Richmond’s prime retail strip, the sisters don’t take the opportunity Tipsy Cupcakes has offered them lightly.
“It had always been a dream of mine to own my own restaurant as a lover of food,” explains Mesha, “so we had to take a leap on this. When we started we had no idea we would be in the place we’re in now. It’s a hard time right now, but we have been able to thrive through the pandemic thanks to our pick-up window, and we’re still excited.”