On one cupcake, a bunny's back feet, ample behind and fluffy tail are all that can be glimpsed of the creature as it plunges down a rabbit hole.
Speckled robins' eggs and jelly beans sit atop knolls of bright green grass on other cupcakes, and a neon-colored marshmallow chick tops a fourth variety.
Created on mounds of butter cream frosting with a signature swirl, they are among the Easter offerings at Kupcakes & Co., an Elkridge bakery that produces 10,000 cupcakes a week.
Ninety specialty flavors such as Pancakes and Bacon, Strawberries and Champagne, and Salted Caramel rotate on the bakery's daily flavor calendar.
But at the three-year-old shop at Routes 100 and 103 on Meadowridge Center Drive there's more to the story than cupcakes, custom cakes and other baked goods.
Given its unusual genesis and the challenge for any small business to stay afloat, the shop could be considered fortunate to still be open, let alone thriving, says co-owner Michelle Kupiec.
The former kindergarten teacher has seen three nearby businesses close since her family's bakery opened in 2011. She and her husband, Bill, an information technology specialist, decided to start the "cupcakery," as they call it, a few years after one of their twin daughters, then 13, made the suggestion. It was a bold move, Kupiec concedes.
Amanda Kupiec was recovering from spinal fusion surgery to correct a severe curvature of the spine when she started watching food programs on cable TV under doctor's orders in an effort to rekindle her appetite after the operation.
After asking her mother if she would push her in a wheelchair to buy supplies to bake a specialty cake like one she had seen on "Ace of Cakes," Amanda began making cupcakes that friends wanted to order.
Soon after the requests started pouring in — and after the family baked cupcakes for a friend's food truck for a while — the idea to start a cupcake business was born.
"What Amanda went through could have broken us as family," says Michelle Kupiec, as she detailed the 57 X-rays taken to confirm 14 cases of pneumonia and the surgery in 2007 that left her daughter with two titanium rods and 18 screws in her back.
"That [experience] could've wrecked a lot in our lives, but Amanda is a true fighter," says Kupiec. "We're a close-knit family, and we found the good."
Now, three pink industrial mixers are humming in the bakery's kitchen six days a week. Betty 1 and Betty 2 can each mix 20 quarts of batter, and Bertha is a 60-quart mixer that can whip up enough batter to make 500 cupcakes at a time.
The "good" that her daughter inspired has spiraled into a booming business, Kupiec says.
Amanda, who was helped immensely through her years of health problems by her twin, Allison, is about to graduate with an associate's degree from the Culinary Institute of America and will rejoin the staff of 16 in May as a bona fide pastry chef.
Both twins, now 19, had worked at the bakery after school and on weekends during their years at Howard High School.
"I'm so excited to get Amanda on our team," Kupiec says. "Already she has suggested we offer bread-baking classes, and she wants to give back to Howard County General Hospital, where she'd spent so much time, by teaching kids to decorate cupcakes."
Amanda says her ordeal made her the person she is today.
"When I first started culinary school, I asked myself if I was doing the right thing," she says. "But it shows in everyone here through the way they teach that they love what they do, and that's helped me to know I made the right choice.
"Baking gives me a sense of relaxation" despite the early hours and hectic days, she says. "I don't think of it as work."
The shop also supplies cupcakes to several area restaurants and an indoor trampoline park, a marketing coup suggested by Allison, who is completing her sophomore year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she is studying to be an elementary school teacher.
Kupiec attributes the shop's success to conceding that "there's nothing skinny about a good cupcake" and to using imported chocolate, butter, full-fat cream, fresh fruit preserves and specially formulated flavor extracts.
"When we first opened, I worried about waiting for someone to walk in or for the phone to ring," she says, adding that those days are over.
Another behind-the-scenes change occurred eight months ago when the shop next door became available and Kupcakes & Co. decided to double its space by knocking through a wall. It not only provided much-needed elbow room for baking and decorating, but enabled the business to add a party room that can accommodate 30 people.
"We had 19 wedding cake tastings in April, and 12 of them have booked their weddings with us," Kupiec says.
Laurel DeSantis, a regular customer who lives around the corner, says she loves the shop's baked goods but appreciates how she's treated even more.
"You feel like everybody's your friend," says DeSantis, who purchases the store's gluten-free varieties. "You feel special from the minute you walk in the door."
Emily Calkins says she likes to support a neighborhood business.
"The shop smells so fantastic," says Calkins, who enjoys dropping in with her daughter Olivia, 9. "It's so cute. It's like walking into a big hug."
Kupiec is grateful for the community support and donates the bakery's frozen leftovers from the week to emergency shelters every Friday.
"My husband and I often walk the five-mile round trip from our home to the shop and back to check on things, even on Saturdays, which is supposed to be my day off," she says. "It's a happy place to be."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun