La Sierra student bakes up sweet lil’ business

La Sierra graduate student Sarah Hoffman bakes cupcakes for her startup company, Lil’ Cups.
Sarah Hoffman
Hoffman adds a little touch of frosting goodness to her cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Jason Hainault

January 22, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( )Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and Sarah Hoffman’s Riverside home is sweet with the scent of red velvet cupcake batter, marshmallow and vanilla cream cheese frosting.

The entrepreneurial baker is planning a flyer blitz to advertise her sweet concoctions for customers wishing to surprise loved ones with a tasty, homemade treat on Feb. 14.

Hoffman, a graduate English student at La Sierra University, launched her baked sweets venture, Lil’ Cups, last fall. The startup effort derives from a lifelong love of baking and skills learned under the tutelage of her grandmother, Nellie Russell, who continues to whip up treats for fellow churchgoers in the country town of Hat Creek outside Redding.

Hoffman operates Lil’ Cups out of her home kitchen in a Riverwalk neighborhood near La Sierra. She shares a home with college roommates who pull double duty as her taste testers.  Lil’ Cups offers 17 unique cupcake flavors created by Hoffman who continuously experiments with new gastronomical delights to tempt her clients.

Lil’ Cups effectively opened for business in October when Hoffman sold a first batch of cupcakes to the La Sierra School of Business for a beach outing. But the launch became official with the rollout of Hoffman’s pale pink and brown Web site on Dec. 4. The site, created by a friend of Hoffman’s, includes crisp photos and descriptions of her mouth-watering confections, a short personal biography and ordering information.

Along with the Web site, Hoffman’s primary investments in her new business involved purchasing extra cupcake tins “and a trip to Costco for big bags of flour,” she said. She hopes her next investment will be a KitchenAid mixer to replace an aging machine donated by her grandmother.

By baking large batches of cupcakes for paying customers, Hoffman learned to speed up the process. “When I first started I spent six hours a day, baking, frosting, waiting for them to cool. Now I’m down to four hours,” she said.

Her primary clients thus far have been university groups. In addition to the business school beach trip, Hoffman has provided the sweet treats for an English department event and sold about two dozen cupcakes per night during the four-night run of The Crucible, a dramatic play held at La Sierra Dec. 3 - 7. She also fills smaller personal orders. Hoffman estimates that between October and December, she baked between 600 and 700 cupcakes.  She plans to sell the sweets during La Sierra’s 2nd Annual Festival of One Acts the first week of March.

Currently Lil’ Cups is offering 24 mini cupcakes or 12 regular-sized cupcakes for $15, a savings of $5 over the regular price. Hoffman’s 17 cupcake flavors include her customers’ holiday favorite, mint chocolate, a chocolate cupcake with peppermint butter cream frosting topped with crushed peppermint candy. “Autumn,” a pumpkin cupcake with maple cream cheese frosting, proved a popular Thanksgiving treat. Other unique flavors include “Mr. Darcy,” named for the dashing Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice.” The Darcy cupcake is an appropriately rich and smooth chocolate cake slathered in espresso butter cream frosting.

Hoffman is often asked which flavors she prefers. “Usually the one I’m working on is my new favorite,” she said.

Friends who are business majors at La Sierra provide Hoffman pointers on running a company. But mostly she is operating her tiny enterprise on her own, armed only with years of baking know-how learned at her grandmother’s kitchen table, and her love of crafting unique, sweet treats. “It’s just me. I have to figure out all these numbers,” she said with a smile. “I haven’t done any flyers. That’s the next step.”

She caught the entrepreneurial bug last summer when she made batches of cupcakes of various flavors and didn’t know what to do with them all. She gave away the sweet treats to friends and thought she might be able to sell them. After further thought, she settled on the name ‘Lil Cups’ for her cupcakes enterprise, with the idea of selling other goodies in the small paper cups and creating a niche product. “I want to branch into other items,” Hoffman said. Hoffman plans to soon offer miniature pies and cheesecakes in cupcake cups.

Hoffman was born and raised in Hong Kong. During her childhood, she flew to Northern California every summer where she spent glorious vacations at her grandmother’s house. There she learned to bake sweets including her grandmother’s famous chocolate chip cookies with toffee bits. Russell, now 84 years old, continues mixing up goodies. “She is always baking something for church, for me,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman plans to enter a high school teaching career after graduating this June from La Sierra. She knows she will continue baking regardless of what becomes of her startup company. “If it doesn’t fly, it’s still a hobby, it’s fun for me anyway,” she said.

Visit Lil'Cups at:



PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  December 07, 2009