One of the biggest perks of living close to downtown is our ability to walk to several local shops and restaurants. Oklahoma is not known for its walkability (check out walkscore.com), but living where we do means we are within a half mile walk of many restaurants, shops, and businesses. One of my favorite places is just a short walk up Shartel: Cuppies & Joe. They turn out the freshest, made-from-scratch baked goods every morning (except Sundays & Mondays – I swear I have some sort of internal self-punishing alarm that makes me crave a cupcake or chai latte every Monday!). The Diefenderfer family opened their doors in December of 2008 and Cuppies & Joe has been an anchor of the Uptown 23rd District ever since, spearheading the redevelopment of the Uptown District. I, along with photographer Megan DeShazo, spent a morning in the kitchen at Cuppies & Joe with Elizabeth Diefenderfer and her mom Peggy.
Where did you learn to bake?
From my mom. She can taste something and name all the ingredients. She’s wanted to open a place as long as I can remember. Before there were any restaurants at Lake Hefner, years ago, she looked there to possibly open a dessert place. Then my sisters and I just caught the vision. Neither of us went to baking or pastry school, but a couple of the girls who work in the shop did.
Who are your biggest influences in cooking and baking? What inspires you?
The people in my life. My mom and several friends who are culinary whizzes inspire me the most. My friends Maggie Humphreys and Chris Castro are honestly, some of the people I am most inspired by in the kitchen. I am constantly amazed by their creations. I definitely have blogs I like to go to like Smitten Kitchen. I get a little more nervous experimenting in baking because its such a science, but you can still have fun with it. I experiment more in cooking. Part of that may because its not my job. More than anything its people in my life.
Describe your kitchen and what you like best about it?
I wish this kitchen was about three times bigger! When we were first choosing the space it seemed much larger, but it became crowded pretty wuickly when we added all of the industrial equipment. We have a sweet green and cream checkered floor and it’s small, but we make it work. It’s become like a dance, just learning how to swish past each other lifting hot trays so we don’t burn one another. One of my favorite features is that we have windows in the kitchen. I’m able to see people coming and going to and from the shop and I love getting natural light on sunny days and watching it rain or snow.
Tell me about the cupcake names?
Most of the names on our menu we literally came up with the night before we opened shop! My twin sister Megan is the best at naming the cupcakes, so I will call her occasionally when we’ve come up with a new flavor and she is so good at coming up with a perfect name that is related to the flavor but you have to take a few steps to get there. Some names are nostalgic, from a favorite childhood movie or song. The most nostalgic is the Sunrise Sunset; my parents’ first date was to see Fiddler on the Roof and they played that song at their wedding so it was a no brainer.
We had one cupcake, the Sammy G, that a customer helped name. He really wanted a German Chocolate cupcake and did a lot of research on recipes and brought it to us. He found out that the guy who came up with the German Chocolate cake was a guy name Samuel German. He was American, which is funny because I always thought the cake was actually from Germany. So we starting making the cupcake and call it the Sammy G in honor of Samuel German.
What was the moment when you decided to open Cuppies & Joe?
Like I said, my mom had always wanted open a dessert shop and my sisters and I caught the vision. My twin sister and I went on a trip to Europe and we loved seeing how people just lived a slower life. They set time aside to sit around a table and enjoy each other. We really wanted to create a space where that was possibly. Then on a trip to Chicago in spring of 2008, we saw a neighborhood cupcake shop and just thought it was perfect because it’s just the right portion for dessert. When I came back from that trip, I actually got laid off from my job, which I didn’t see coming at all. That was the push we needed to actually give it a try. So my mom quit her job at an oil & gas company, which was a huge leap of faith, and we found this space and opened in December. It was a whirlwind!
And at that time it was just Cheever’s on 23rd?
Yes. We didn’t really think of ourselves as pioneers, but it has changed so much in the six years since we’ve been here. It’s been really fun to see the community grow; there is a great group of people and businesses here.
Were there any growing pains at first?
Oh my goodness yes! While we did know how to bake, we essentially knew nothing about owning a business. My mom and I thought we would just open at noon, so we would do all the baking in the morning and spend the rest of the day out front talking to customers. I don’t think that ever happened! There were not many systems in place and the business really took off faster than we had anticipated so we had to majorly adjust how things were done. There was one day before we got the big industrial mixer that my mom was sick so I was doing all the baking and, at that time, I was the only one who knew how to do coffee drinks so we had to call friends to find someone to come and help. Another time, we had two weddings on one day and our oven broke, so we were calling around to see if there was anyone nearby with an oven we could use. City Bites over on Classen said we could use their oven since they were done baking their bread, so I would mix the batter here and pour it in tins, then friends shuttled them over to City Bites to bake and then back here to decorate. It was crazy! We really had to learn what worked well without compromising who we were or the quality of our product and the atmosphere we were hoping to create.
So you and your mom do all the baking from scratch every day?
We do and we have a couple girls that went to pastry school that also bake with us. When we interviewed them they were really excited to find out that we baked from scratch. Even in pastry school, they learned to bake from scratch, but they were told that they would never need to because almost no one does that. We like to use good, fresh ingredients. I love wedding cakes and everything, but if it looks a little more homemade it’s better to me because it looks like it tastes better. We’ve made wedding cakes before, but we don’t use fondant. I just want to stay true to who we are.
What are your dreams for Cuppies & Joe down the road?
That is a question we have to constantly ask ourselves! I love the charm of one location. We are so hands-on and enjoy working together as a family, so I can’t imagine a second location but maybe that’s just me. I do love the momentum and community feel that is happening in our district (Uptown 23rd). There is always the dream of our perfect location, that may not actually exist, but I have visions of what the space would look like. I do always want to keep things fresh and exciting, which is why we are constantly adding new things to the menu and trying out different ideas, but still remaining true to who we are.
What is the most satisfying part of your making process?
For me, we have gotten to be a part of so many significant moments in our customers’ lives: proposals, baby reveals, birthdays, weddings, the loss of loved ones, victories over hard times or medical battles. I love that we will forever be a part of those memories. Sometimes a customer is just having a rough day so a cupcake or a slice of pie is exactly what they need. So I get to know that what I spent time creating is being used to bring joy or maybe even just a little sweetness.
What ingredient can you not get enough of?
Butter. Always butter!
What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
Our industrial mixers. I should probably bow down every days because they are our heroes.
Favorite local eatery?
What is unique about the food scene in Oklahoma?
The community atmosphere and just how people have been adding their own unique spin to the restaurants. We are rooting each other on and different people are working together on different projects. It has never felt like a cut throat environment at all. There are so many quality spots that have opened over the past several years. Its been fun to see the growth.
Describe a favorite meal.
Anything Chris Castro fixes! [laughs] I’m really big on flavor and not having to season things, so fresh produce and herbs are definitely involved. Perhaps a yummy cocktail. I love Italian. Something grilled with lots of fresh ingredients. I love meats too. Around a table outside with loved ones and everyone bringing something delicious to the table. I don’t discriminate against any food as long as its made with love I’m a fan.
What do you love about living in Oklahoma?
The people for sure! I love the people here. As far as opening a shop, I don’t know how anybody does it without community around them because we would not have survived without people coming and helping us when we opened and their continued support.
Why do you think its important to work with your hands?
There’s a lot to it. You get to pour into things. There is something so gratifying about knowing you tangibly worked with your hands; seeing the result of something you got to physically be a part of. I think we were created to work with out hands and we sometimes lose sight of that. Granted, what I do for a living isn’t saving lives, but I am so grateful that I get to use what I do and at least be a part of others’ lives.