Photography courtesy of Spots NYC
Business and pleasure came together for Lily Walla in the most unexpected way. In February of 2014, then-Lily Brynes wanted to create a fun and creative tribute to her boyfriend, Samson, for Valentine’s Day.
She did what countless girlfriends have done before her: she baked him cupcakes. But, in her case, she added a delicious twist with the magic of technology: a photo of them in edible frosting. What came next was a baked-in-Hollywood story, in which Lily not only gets the guy (now-husband Samson says the cupcakes sealed the deal), but also launched a sweet empire of personalized confections, which everyone from my cousin Nancy to the editors at Vogue are devouring.
Left to right: Lily and Samson Walla
We sat down with Lily to get the scoop on her unexpected, delicious journey.
NEW YORK MAKERS: Your business idea seems like the kind of thing we all dream about, but abandon because it seems too far-fetched. I’d love to hear more about your inspiration and journey.
LILY WALLA: I have always loved baking, and I was definitely planning on a career in the food business, but I never thought it would happen with mini-cupcakes! Honestly, it just happened. I was 23 and working with Danny Meyers, and between jobs at his company. They gave me a three-week break before I started a job in operations at the Shake Shack, and that’s when I baked the cupcakes with photos on them for my boyfriend. They were so cute, I shared them on Instagram. Immediately, friends and followers wanted to know where I bought them. When I told them I made them, a friend of mine in PR reached out. She ordered several batches and sent them to Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, and Lucky Magazine, and they posted them on Instagram! This was when Instagram was much smaller, but, in some ways, it was more of a community. Jonathan Adler corporate called me that day and ordered 500 for a press preview. At that point, the orders just came pouring in. Spots NYC was born.
Left to right: Olivia Wilde, Lily Walla, and Anderson Cooper
NYM: That’s a lot for a 23-year-old. Were you freaked out?
LW: I’d always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and my stepfather ran a catering company, so creating my own business was something I always wanted to do. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast. Word spread really fast both from person to person and between businesses. It’s the type of product that is so distinct, when you see it or try it, you ask about it.
NYN: How did the company evolve in the years before COVID?
LW: I focused on personal and corporate orders. I love throwing and hosting parties, and one of my favorite projects is working on weddings. I always say that CEO stands for Celebrating and Entertaining Officer, which is really what Spots NYC’s business model is based on. Our offerings for weddings have become super popular, and they’re a great example of the unique service we can offer. What happens is, the maid of honor or best man will email us a photo of the first kiss or another special moment [at the wedding], and we’ll get it on hundreds of cupcakes and delivered to the wedding, as long as it was within two hours of our production facility in Long Island City. It’s such a fun and unforgettable treat to serve instead of a cake, and, of course with social media, word spread quickly about offerings like that. I’ve also at this point worked with pretty much every major corporation, from Disney and Netflix to Amazon and Microsoft and a lot of fashion houses. Spots NYC is really popular for corporate gifting, holiday parties, and fashion week. Our cupcakes are so customizable, you can really do anything with them.
NYM: And it’s not just cupcakes, right?
LW: I have definitely expanded the line. We do hundreds of thousands of cupcakes a year now, but second in popularity is our candies. Everything can be customized of course. We also do cookie cakes, dog treats, and marshmallows, which are so fun!
NYM: How has COVID affected your business?
LW: We shut down our commissary in Manhattan because we didn’t feel it was safe. It was primarily a space where people could just pick up their individual orders, but now we ship them to them. At this point, I am focusing on corporate partnerships and fulfilling individual orders placed online. I recently forged an incredible partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS, and it has really helped us get through COVID without seeing a drop in business. I’m doing what I love — sharing moments of happiness and celebration with people — through the cupcakes, which can be delivered with flowers.
NYM: What’s next for Spots NYC?
LW: Well, Samson and I are expecting our first child in September, a boy. I’m looking forward to another reset with that. This time during COVID has allowed everyone, I think, to refocus their priorities. I can’t wait to meet our son, take maternity leave, and then return. I’ve gotten really good advice from entrepreneurs who have children on how to use the time, learn to delegate, and return refreshed and ready.
Sounds delicious. And perhaps we’ll have some edible baby-inspired confections in our future?