By Luke Netzley
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Nestled in the heart of Old Pasadena is a boutique cupcake shop that serves some of the tastiest cupcakes.
Dots Cupcakes and Dots Cafe owner and founder, Hailey Kwon, has been spreading joy and the spirit of celebration throughout the Pasadena community since opening her first store in 2006.
“We bake everything from scratch every single day, frost every single cupcake every single day, and never serve anything from the day before,” Kwon explained. “That’s been our philosophy, our motto and our mantra since day one, and even in the slowest times we’ve never sacrificed the quality of the cupcakes.”
Dots’ story is not one of just award-winning cupcakes. It’s one of commitment and devotion to the community.
“When customers come here, we learn so much about them and their families,” Kwon said. “We’ve shared birthdays, baby showers, anniversaries, and continue to celebrate life occasions on a daily basis.”
Kwon serves dozens of mouth-watering baked specialties, including her famous red velvet cupcakes, at Dots Cupcakes on North Fair Oaks Avenue, while Dots Cafe on East Colorado Boulevard offers a more relaxed, communal atmosphere.
“We thought it’d be a really good transition to have a place where people can come in and sit down to eat, drink and have breakfast,” Kwon said about the cafe, where customers can also enjoy high-quality, low-cost family dinners, an addition born from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The day the pandemic hit, we started family dinners knowing that families were not going to be able to come and sit inside and may not have as many resources at home.”
When Dots Cafe began serving family dinners, it initially reached around 10 to 12 families a day. Eventually, around 100 families a night sought it out.
The cafe also began giving out family gifts and take-home activities for children to help relieve the stress of working parents.
“We were able to transition into that because we already had so many relationships with families,” Kwon explained. “We became this community cafe where we’re doing events in the parking lot, Easter egg hunts, pumpkin giveaways and carnivals. Yes, we’re a cafe and we serve food, but we’re really here to celebrate family.”
What began as a boutique cupcake shop has become a successful, multilocation business, but the journey hasn’t been easy. After graduating from UC Irvine and gaining work experience with the Cancer Society, Kwon went to work for the Dodgers, where she honed her skills in event management and coordination. It was during this time when her father died.
“It put a lot of things into perspective. I could’ve just stayed in corporate and I would have had a great job, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about,” Kwon said, describing how the passing of her father gave her a new outlook on her life. “If you knew you only had such a short period of time to live, would you still live that way?”
Through the roller coaster of emotions that arose during that tragic time, Kwon found the motivation and drive to pursue her dream as a business owner. Hence, Dots Cupcakes was born.
“I wanted to help people in my own way, and for me I could help people by serving them cupcakes,” Kwon said.
With little to no money or baking experience, Kwon bravely stepped onto the path to owning her own business, and the rest was history.
In the latest issue of Pasadena Weekly’s Best of Pasadena, Dots Cupcakes was voted Best Cupcake for the 12th year in a row, a testament to consistent quality.
The trust between Dots and the Pasadena community extends beyond just delicious cupcakes, though, over to dinners, which have remained at the same price despite a dramatic increase in food costs over the last two years.
“Our purpose isn’t about money; it’s about serving. Everyone has that mindset here, with customers in mind for every single thing that we do,” Kwon explained.
This mindset has also been demonstrated by the work that Dots has done during the pandemic to help customers feel more comfortable, such as constructing windows for serving food outside.
“The people keep us going,” Kwon said, further expressing her love for Pasadena. “This is my home, and having the cafe and cupcake shop open here has been a dream for me.”
For more information, visit Dots Cupcakes and Dots Cafe or place an order online at dotscafebakery.com.