BEIRUT: You may think that a cupcake is a cupcake is a cupcake. Not so at Cupcake Box, where all profits go to charity, and that little indulgence doesn’t leave one feeling quite so guilty.
The organization was founded by Randa Kabrit, who was working in Dubai as a mechanical engineer when the tsunami struck in Japan in March 2011, leaving more than 15,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed.
“When I heard about that disaster I really felt an urge to reach out and try and make a difference.”
Doing the first thing that came to mind, Kabrit simply walked around her office, an oil and gas firm, and asked for donations.
“I’d been with this company for 10 years so I was kind of hoping that people were just going to jump on board with this. And if you work in oil and gas, and in the Gulf, you’re pretty comfortable financially so the fact that no one really supported the cause really upset me.”
Refusing to give up, Kabrit decided to provide an incentive.
“So I baked cupcakes and took them to the office the next day and it was very simple, I said whoever gives a donation gets a cupcake. I really didn’t expect the response I got to the cupcakes, but people loved them and encouraged me to keep baking.”
In an office of around 3,000 employees, word quickly spread, and soon orders and requests were flooding in. Always an avid cook, Kabrit was more than happy to comply, and soon found herself baking around 300 to 400 cupcakes a week, and raising hundreds of dollars for charity each month, including the Red Crescent, which provided iftar meals during Ramadan.
On the day she was set to return to Beirut in November of that year – she is originally Lebanese Armenian – Cupcake Box was mentioned on local radio. “So it was bittersweet, as everything was just picking up. I was ready to leave the country, but I really didn’t want to stop what I was doing.”
After settling into Beirut life, including a new, full-time job as community manager for an online Lebanese food network, Kabrit started up Cupcake Box once again.
Each month she chooses a different charity to work with, and due to the high number of NGOs in the country, she has started by taking recommendations from friends on those which are particularly effective. So far she has worked with Nawaya (which trains underprivileged youth), One Wig Stand (a breast cancer charity), victims of the Ashrafieh bombing, and Animals Lebanon, the current charity of the month.
But how does she balance a full time job with this rather time consuming side project?
After evenings relaxing with her husband, Kabrit then bakes at home from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. but, she insists, not every night of the week.
“It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes I get exhausted, but honestly at the end of the month when you see how much you’ve raised or when you talk to someone and you connect, that’s priceless,” she explains.
Having left the oil and gas industry for good – a sector still difficult for women, she says, which made leaving the work a decision she has not regretted – and with her work at Cupcake Box, Kabrit is convinced now more than ever that a passion outside of work is vital for a balanced life.
“Honestly, I did the kind of work which drains you and your sense of soul, and you feel very unsatisfied and that you’re making no impact on the things you care about and the people you care about and your country,” she says.
“I really encourage my friends to have two jobs: your paying job which makes ends meet and keeps you sustained and your passion job, which is a job which resonates with your heart.”
Dependent on the charity in question, and how proactive they are about campaigning, Kabrit makes from $200 to $1,000 in profits each month.
She also takes part in one-off fundraising events with some of the charities she partners with, such as drama therapy group Catharsis, where she sold cupcakes at their performances featuring women detainees at Baabda prison last year.
These events allow her to raise even more money, she says. “People aren’t just buying the cupcakes; you engage, and they donate on top. The cupcake is just symbolic then.”
She has some customers who regularly buy cupcakes for events and birthdays, those who do so when they are attached to the particular charity of the month, and others that she meets at these individual fundraisers.
And if she has a big order coming in, she enlists some volunteers, usually her mom and her friends.
“They show up and we have a bottle of wine and snacks and they help me. They’re amazing, as long as they’re working together: It’s fun, it’s a family affair.”
The treats on offer at Cupcake Box aren’t your usual boring old fare, either. While she does do the classics – from Red Velvet to Strawberry Milkshake and Death by Chocolate – Kabrit also has a huge selection of much quirkier flavors. The Spicy Canadian features a pecan cake with maple buttercream and a walnut, there’s the self-explanatory Spiced Pumpkin Ginger and the caffeine-infused Ahweit El-Hamra, the latter of which was a crowd-sourced recipe.
“I try to keep it interesting by having flavors of the week, so I experiment, and if I see that they’re popular I make it a permanent flavor,” she says.
On top of the cupcake of the week, Kabrit also bakes pies and cookies, and even vegan cupcakes.
Many friends have pushed her to open a shop, but for now, Kabrit is happy doing what she’s doing.
“I’ve really thought about it, but it would all come at the expense of the profits that go to the charity, so I really need to control my costs ... so I think it’s going to stay the way it is for now,” she says.
And does her husband mind a house constantly full of baking supplies, cupboards overflowing with eggs, flour and sugar? Laughing, she says that he doesn’t mind at all:
“All the ‘ugly cupcakes,’ the messed up ones, he gets to eat.”
As they’re all baked fresh, cupcakes can be ordered in minimum batches of six, and with four days notice. The full menu is available at https://www.facebook.com/CupcakeBox.Charity. Follow her on Twitter at @cupcakebox or contact Randa Kabrit on 76-538-282.