Woman on Top

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Katherine Kallinis & Sophie Montagne

DC Cupcake Founders
Katherine Kallinis and Sophie Montagne
co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake

Joke: How many cupcakes does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: None, it just takes one girl to notice her easy bake oven is not working.

While not side-splittingly hilarious, this joke does get to the heart of two very important qualities for women in business – an entrepreneurial mentality coupled with a “get things done” attitude.

When it comes to possessing both of these qualities, Katherine Kallinis and Sophie Montagne take the cake. Sisters and co-founders of the highly successful Georgetown Cupcake, these women epitomize the modern day entrepreneur, and have a laundry list of accomplishments to prove it.

As is indicative of its name, Georgetown Cupcake is located in the heart of Georgetown in Washington, DC and sells only – you guessed it – cupcakes. Founded on Valentine’s Day in 2008, this first and only cupcakery in DC has been a huge success from day one. Voted Best Bakery in DC by the Washington Post, Georgetown Cupcake boasts of delicious cupcake flavors such as Salted Caramel and Red Velvet.

But Georgetown Cupcake goes further than just selling great cupcakes. Katherine and Sophie use their cupcake sales to support local and national charities, such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Heroes Against Childhood Cancer, and Hope for Henry. Oh yea – and these sisters have inspired a television show about their family owned bakery on TLC, titled DC Cupcakes. Katherine and Sophie have taken their passion for baking and turned it into a hugely successful business venture.

However, baking full-time was not always part of the sister’s grand plans. In fact, their career paths could not have been further from it. They both ended up in Washington, DC when Katherine went to Marymount University and Sophie moved from New Jersey for her first job. Prior to opening the bakery, Katherine worked in the fashion industry for Gucci while Sophie worked in venture capital.

But where do venture capital and fashion intersect with cupcakes? In Greece.
The sister’s claim that their entrepreneurial spark – along with their love of baking – originated with their grandmother Katherine Ouzas, an immigrant from Greece. The women assert that if their grandmother could immigrate into the United States and start her life over without even knowing a word of English, then they could open a bakery.
Katherine and Sophie affirm that it has always been their dream to open a bakery together. They reminisce that when they were children, they used to bake frequently with their grandmother. Using their grandmother’s leftover cake batter to make “mini cakes,” the girls dreamt of the humble beginnings of Georgetown Cupcake.

Even so, quitting comfortable jobs with stable income to open a bakery was not always sugar, spice, and everything nice. Initially, Katherine and Sophie were unsure of what to make or sell. In the end they decided to focus on one thing and “make it amazing,” Sophie claimed. So they picked cupcakes and set to work developing their business plan.
But greater roadblocks laid ahead for Katherine and Sophie. The sisters ran headlong into “The Cupcake Challenge.” Loosely defined, this refers to the difficulty women often have being taken serious when they attempt to sell products that are “cute” such as cupcakes. The Cupcake Challenge certainly challenged the sisters.

From the beginning, Katherine and Sophie ran into two major issues. First, they lacked the technical culinary training people thought necessary to run a successful bakery. Second, and more importantly, they had difficulty securing funding for what people referred to as an unrealistic business. After being turned down by three different banks for a business loan, maxing out their personal credit cards, investing their life savings, and putting in enough “sweat equity” to last a lifetime, the woman joke that they “got creative and made it work.”

And make it work they did! Katherine and Sophie built Georgetown Cupcake from the ground up. With a staff of two, the sisters did everything from painting walls and installing light fixtures, to designing the iconic branding and packaging. They also worked to perfect their cupcake and icing recipes. In the first four months the women put in about 22 hours a day, making their cupcakery everything it is today.

Three years later, Georgetown Cupcake is a huge success. The bakery has catapulted from 15 flavors to over 70 flavors of cupcakes and went from selling 1,000 cupcakes per day to over 5,000. Capitalizing on their monumental success, the women opened a second location in Bethesda, Maryland in December of 2009 and have been featured in dozens of magazines, newspapers, and television shows. Moreover, the staff has grown from 2 sisters to over 200 employees, giving the sisters a chance to focus on the second season of their largely successful television series, DC Cupcakes.

While neither of the women could have possibly envisioned the fame or fortune that stemmed from Georgetown Cupcake, they often joke that when there was a line down the block on its opening day, they knew they had something good on their hands, but when the line was still there on day two, they knew that Georgetown Cupcake would be a huge success.

So, what makes Katherine Kallinis and Sophie Montagne this month’s women on top? Piece of cake! Their entrepreneurial spirit, determination, and delicious cupcakes!

About the Author:
Anna Cuthrell
Anna Cuthrell is from Latrobe, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Saint Vincent College. After spending the summer interning for the Charles G. Koch Foundation with the Higher Education team, she decided to pursue educational programming full time. In the spring of 2010, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to become the Assistant Director of Programs for the Foundation for Economic Education.