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North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Little Cakes earns big wins on Food Network

Who would have imagined that getting pushed out of a high-paying job after 12 years of service was the best thing that could have ever happened to two-time “Cupcake Wars” winner Don Hein, owner of Little Cakes Cupcake Kitchen in Vista?

In 2010, after being demoted and having his pay cut in half, Hein knew he had to start over someplace new. In the midst of a recession and with no culinary experience, he decided to dive into the gourmet cupcake market armed with a good instinct for business, a need to succeed and a few borrowed recipes.

“When I had the rug pulled out from under me, my first thought was to open my own business,” said Hein, whose first career goal was to write for movies. “I love being in the kitchen and I knew how to run a business, so I got some recipes from my brother and then my wife (Becky Hein) and I started developing our own, which emulated our favorite desserts in the form of a cupcake.”

After three years in business, the Heins and their dedicated staff have created a repertoire of more than 130 varieties of small cakes designed to serve one person with names such as the Myles, the Norman, tamale de elote, chocolate mint, Princess Annie and Mayan macaroon.

Flavor profiles such as banana and chocolate cake, topped with creamy peanut butter buttercream and chocolate drizzle; pistachio almond cake, topped with raspberry buttercream and a marzipan heart; chocolate cinnamon cake, topped with vanilla Italian buttercream, rolled in toasted coconut and drizzled with chocolate ganache; are a few items appearing on a rotating menu that changes daily.

Within three months of opening their doors, the Food Network’s reality-based competitive cooking show “Cupcake Wars” called with an offer to appear on an episode. Fearing they weren’t ready and that the time away from the shop would cost too much for their young business, Hein declined the offer.

“There’s a lot of work and preparation that goes in it and we couldn’t afford to be away long enough to go and shoot the episode,” Hein said. “We hadn’t even done our first major event yet and it was too intimidating. I felt like we weren’t ready.”

The show pits cupcake maker against cupcake maker as four of the best designers from around the country compete every week in three elimination rounds until only one remains. The winner walks away with a cash prize of $10,000 and bragging rights.

But nine months later when the second call from the Food Network arrived, Hein was ready and eager to take on the challenge. The end result was a victory that gave his business a huge jumpstart, which translated into instant exposure, increased revenue and the confidence that helped get the young enterprise on its feet.

Hein said that he was completely thrown off guard when the producers of “Cupcake Wars” called again in the early part of 2013 for yet another chance to succeed at what has become for some a cultural phenomenon.

“The first competition was really good for business,” he said. “I thought if we can do well a second time, it could give us a good enough boost so that my wife and I can maybe start a family.”

The gamble paid off and Hein, along with baker Jessica Sanchez, won the Oct. 5 episode. Hein said that although his wife isn’t pregnant yet, the couple is hard at work developing plans to expand their fast-growing cupcake bakery.

“It’s exciting to be a two-time ‘Cupcake Wars’ winner, but I don’t know that three times would be all that much different,” he said. “We definitely enjoyed the process, but I don’t see us going back again.”

Little Cakes Cupcake Kitchen is located at 30 Main St., Suite 180, in Vista. An online application is available on the company’s website that is updated throughout the day telling customers what is being served and providing a description of what it is. A frequent-buyer program can also be followed online.

More information can be found at or by calling 760-842-5138.

Manny Lopez is a North County freelance writer

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Little Cakes earns big wins on Food Network