Kim Corbett rushed into our designated meeting spot – a Gregory’s Coffee near Bond Street – with a plastic tray of a dozen mini cupcakes in tow.
“I never go anywhere without a cupcake,” she said with a smirk, only half-kidding. Corbett, 25, is a petite woman with a permanent smile and an energy that commands your attention – no coffee needed. She is a baker – a vegan baker, although she won’t tell you that right away – distancing herself from the stereotype of the self-righteous, in-your-face-about-your-diet vegan, just as her vegan treats are far from bland.
Corbett fell into her brand, Hot Sugar Baker, somewhat by accident. At Penn State, where she studied musical theater, Corbett started a vegan blog and Instagram account for vegan recipes. She slowly found herself drawn more and more to vegan baking.
“I was spending hours watching cake decorating videos just like consumed by this obsession,” Corbett recalled. “I changed my name to Hot Sugar Baker, and I just started baking all the time.”
The name is only about six months old, and Corbett credits her boyfriend, also a vegan, for the inspiration.
“Every time I would have him try something, I’d be like, ‘Do you think this is good?’” said the baker, who admitted she often doubts her own abilities. “And he’d say, ‘Kim, it’s hot sugar; it’s fine. People are going to eat it. It’s hot sugar.’ And then…” She threw her hands in the air to reenact the epiphany. “Hot sugar! That’s my name.”
Corbett steers clear of the label “vegan baker.”
“I love being a vegan baker,” she emphasized, “but with that, they think it’s going to taste like crap and dirt and… no way. I use sugar.”
To her, nothing’s more rewarding than watching a vegan realize they can eat her food.
“I want them to have this excited moment of, ‘I can eat this!’ I want to make good food that happens to be vegan,” she said. Her secret? A ratio of apple cider vinegar and baking soda.
“Her cupcakes don’t taste like stereotypical vegan cupcakes,” said Andrew Boza, who teaches cooking classes at Fresh Made NYC with Corbett. “She proves that you don’t need eggs and dairy to make decedent desserts.”
Last April, a friend asked Corbett to make a cake for her vegan roommate. “I hadn’t even put it out there that I was going to take orders,” she remembered thinking, but agreed on a whim.
She taught herself how to bake the strawberry cake – a flavor she had never touched – later announcing on Instagram, “I guess I’m taking orders now!”
Corbett has since fulfilled countless cupcake and cake orders and experimented with scores of flavors; she’s made batches of expertly decorated sugar cookies for friends to send as opening night gifts for Broadway shows such as “Anastasia” and “Hello Dolly”; and few weekends ago, she finished her first vegan wedding cake.
“Her cupcakes are unbelievable,” said performer and friend Erika Creelman. “They taste like you should feel guilty. She’s so driven.”
Corbett calls Hot Sugar Baker her “second life” – second to acting and performing.
“When you’re doing the acting thing, you have to find something else that brings you joy,” she explained. “It’s almost been hard switching into people ordering stuff instead of me just bringing it, because I just want to give it to people.”
That’s been the challenge: asking friends for money and networking.
“I’ve had to gut up and be like, ‘This is how much it is,’” she said. “It’s also hard being young in the professional world – just getting the confidence to say, I have the credit, I can do this.”
And although Hot Sugar Baker is an established name, Corbett still hesitates to call it a “business,” using air-quotes every time she mentions the word. “I don’t like to call myself a ‘business.’ I’m not trying to skip steps here; I’m trying to go at the pace that’s right for me.”
As a boutique operation, Corbett asks for more than grocery store prices, but along with the price tag comes a product catered to your taste.
“You can call me and tell me what flavor you want,” she said, “and that’s the difference: you’re talking to me. My stuff is better than what you can get in the grocery store. And it’s going to be exactly what you want.”
Business is conducted online and through friends, but the treats are mainly produced in her little Astoria kitchen, where she’s lived for three years.
“I love Queens,” the baker said. “For me, it’s really important to say I’m from Queens. It’s important on my Instagram to say, ‘Astoria, Queens.’”
She finds this distinction crucial, pointing out the severe lack of vegan options in Queens as compared to Manhattan or Brooklyn.
“Sometimes you just want to go out to eat and there are like two restaurants. It’s so frustrating to have this underrepresented community, because we have the market for it,” lamented Corbett, who’s on a mission to change that narrative. “I hope that this will inspire people in Queens to take a look at one or two things on their menu, and just switch it up.”
As for the future of Hot Sugar Baker?
“I would love for it to be this thriving business. Right now, it’s growing, but once it picks up, Queens all the way,” she said with a smile.