Fresh And Creative Cupcake Fun

A bell jingles as I walk into Sugar Mill Cupcakes. Two girls sit next to the register playing on an iPhone as owner Westy Kessler glides from the back with a plate of just-baked cupcakes.

The smell of sugar hangs in the air, and the display case holds today’s flavors: Maple Bacon, Hula Pie, Rocky Road and Strawberry Gone Wild. They’re $3 each, and have whimsical tops of buttercream frosting. The Lemon Lilikoi and Red Velvet cupcakes are in the back cooling with the cinnamon rolls.

Maple Bacon tastes like Sunday morning, and Strawberry Gone Wild is the sweet essence of spring. Hula is studded Oreo cookies, and Rocky Road is topped with a house-made marshmallow.

Kessler and former partner Tiare Shin began making cupcakes two years ago. At the time, you could only get them at a few farmers markets, or delivered to your door. Kessler is still at the markets, and still delivers for free to the Kapa’a/Lihu’e area. Two months ago, she opened a cupcakery at Roxy Square in Old Town Kapa’a.

Sweets have been in Kessler’s family since the late 1800s when her great-grandfather opened M. Miura Store (now Deja Vu) in Kapa’a. “The Miuras started as a confectionary store,” says Kessler. “From early on, I watched my grandma make macadamia nut pie from the trees in her backyard, so I fell in love with baking.”

Kessler is known for incorporating contemporary favorites with Hawaiian flavors. éclairs and cream puffs are flavored with lilikoi, guava or even haupia, and a line of chocolate cupcakes is filled with avocado.

“A lot of the stuff we get is local – guava, avocado, lilikoi, lychee, even the eggs,” says Kessler, who also makes custom cakes. “It’s cheaper and you can taste the difference. Plus, anything we can keep on Kaua’i to keep Kaua’i going is a big deal. You need to keep it local, help everybody out and spread the wealth around.”

Pineapple, lilikoi and guava juice, along with orange zest make the Mai Tai cupcakes. Koloa Rum’s Kaua’i Dark is in the cake, and Kaua’i Gold is in the buttercream. “That’s the secret to them tasting so good: You have to use this rum. It totally makes the cake!”

Coconut cake is the base for the Haupia Cupcakes, which are filled with a homemade haupia and topped with haupia butter-cream. Uhi, a purple yam jam made with coconut milk, also finds its way into cupcakes.

Kessler makes cupcakes for graduation parties, baby showers, vow renewals and weddings. In fact, she’s making key lime cupcakes filled with key lime curd and frosted with key lime buttercream for the senior editor of People magazine.

“She was talking to somebody who’s doing the casting for Cupcake Wars. They said they were looking at a place on Kaua’i (which is us),” says Kessler. “She called me last November, and said she wanted to get married here, and wanted me to do her cupcakes.”

The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars isn’t the only goal Kessler has her sights on. Because of customer demand, she is rolling out a line of breakfast items. Yogurt parfaits made with Anahola Granola, seasonal fruit and a drizzle of Kaua’i honey are available now. She’s also testing a line of baked pastries stuffed with eggs and bacon.

SUGAR, Kessler’s line of confections, includes Lilikoi Mac Nut Toffee and handcrafted marshmallows. “For Valentine’s Day, we made cake balls for the Westin,” says Kessler who sells her cupcakes at the Princeville Market. “They’re cake filled with buttercream and dipped in chocolate.”

Children and adults gather on the shop’s lanai for cup-cake decorating parties, and there’s music for the Kapa’a art walk. “In May, I had the Kapa’a Middle School choir perform,” says Kessler. “I like to have local kids’ groups come and sing and dance. It’s a great way to get more families to walk in Kapa’a town.”

Sugar Mill Cupcakes is making Father’s Day gift packs. Cupcakes and sugar cookies made to look like a hamburger, french fries and a drink will sit on an edible tray. “It’s going to say ‘Number One Dad,'” says Kessler. Personalized cupcakes with family pictures on fondant also will be available.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” says Kessler. “Every day I’m getting closer and closer to realizing my dream of making the world sweeter, one cupcake at a time.”

Sugar Mill Cupcakes 4-1345 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a

635-2856 Open Mondays and Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.