Sera Axtman and Tari Harris opened Angel Cups, Fargo’s original cupcake shop, in September 2010 and their evolving flavor selection and loyal clientele have kept them busy ever since.
The business partners started out as associates at United Blood Services in Fargo, where a staff seminar had unintended consequences for the pair.
“We were inspired by our instructor,” said Harris. “After having a near-death experience, he quit his high-profile job to become a part-time ski instructor. He used the term ‘joie de vivre’ to describe his experience. We were inspired by him to become our own bosses.”
Which is exactly what they did, quitting their jobs and opening the doors to Angel Cups exactly one month later, despite the fact that Harris hadn’t baked a cupcake in her life.
That’s certainly changed. Axtman and Harris bake hundreds of cupcakes every week and staff their store themselves. Angel Cups has a dedicated group of regulars who come for the hearty soup, sandwich and cupcake lunch, but the cupcakes are the real stars of the show.
Angel Cups stocks favorites like Chocolate and Vanilla Buttercream every day and features a rotating variety of special flavors and seasonal selections.
The variety is a hit with Angel Cups customers like Collin Lindhorst. “I always go to get one particular flavor, usually Cookie Dough or German Chocolate,” said Lindhorst, “but always come away with four or a half dozen because the other flavors look too tempting.”
Angel Cups regular Melissa Muehlbauer also had high praise for Angel Cups cupcakes. “They are very full of flavor without being overly sweet. They also have such a variety to pick from, due to their seasonal flavors and rotating menu. What's better than Caramel Apple in the fall and Key Lime in the summer?”
Cookie Dough, Chocolate with Cream Filling, Strawberry Mascarpone and Peanut Butter Cup are their best sellers, but the seasonal menus and Baker’s Choice options mean that the flavor selection at Angel Cups is always evolving. Axtman and Harris solicit feedback from their customers, encourage comments on their Facebook page and find inspiration in fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“People crave certain things at certain times of the year,” said Axtman, adding that they focus on pumpkin, spice and more savory tastes during the winter and return to strawberry and raspberry favorites during spring and summer when the raw ingredients are at their peak.
Once the ideas start flowing, it’s time for the experimentation phase. “Sera comes up with all of the flavors and recipes and then experiments to find the perfect frosting/cake combination,” said Harris. “Then we taste test. Sometimes we rope our friends into tasting the new ideas.”
Once the recipes are perfected, the pair will rotate them into the menu to see what customers prefer. “We’ll take the month of February to try new flavors,” said Axtman, “and then we’ll start the new seasonal menu in March.”
Angel Cups earned national attention in November 2012, when The Daily Meal ranked Angel Cups #16 on a list of the Top 50 Cupcakes in America. Angel Cups outranked numerous Cupcake Wars champions, best-selling cupcake book authors and Magnolia Bakery, the Manhattan bakery that launched the national cupcake craze with celebrity shout-outs and a cameo on Sex and the City.
The Daily Meal considered taste, presentation, menu and cake-to-frosting ratio in their contest rankings and gave high marks to Angel Cups in all categories, most notably a perfect 10 in their cake-to-frosting ratio.
Customer and frosting enthusiast Jessi Migler concurs with the high frosting marks. “I am very particular about frosting,” said Migler. “The taste, texture, amount -- everything is right on.”
Harris and Axtman shrug off the honor, preferring to concentrate on pleasing their regular customers instead of the critics. “Some customers have come to the store saying they saw the article,” said Harris, “but nothing much has changed since the poll results.”
Instead of letting the praise go to their heads, Axtman and Harris are concentrating their energies on the busy Valentine’s Day season and their rapidly filling wedding and graduation calendar, while continuing their tradition of serving filling lunches and delectable cupcakes, winning over one customer at a time.