In 2008, with the housing bubble ready to pop, David Arrick lost his job as a Wall Street attorney specializing in asset-backed securities.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “There were no jobs for anybody with my background. My securities were backed by mortgages, which were the worst thing possible.”
Soon after, Arrick found work helping to develop Universal Studios Dubailand. But just as he was getting ready to move to the Arabian Peninsula, the real estate market there also came crashing down, burying his new job in the rubble.
Laid off twice in one year, Arrick was at a loss—until one day he passed by Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan’s West Village and a light went on.
“The line was going around the block,” Arrick says. “I thought, ‘My God, even in a recession? Cupcakes are the answer? I’ve got to get on this bandwagon.’”
But, first, Arrick had to come up with a unique concept. It didn’t take long.
“Literally within four seconds, I thought, ‘What about a boy bakery?” he says.
As a result, last October, the cupcake-delivery concept Butch Bakery was born. As opposed to the typical cupcake’s fondant hearts and frilly frosting, Butch Bakery’s cupcakes are geared toward men. They sport names like Driller and Jackhammer; the ingredient list includes crushed pretzels, crumbled bacon, and plenty of alcohol; and every cupcake gets topped off with a chocolate disc decorated with one of six manly patterns (woodland, camouflage, wood grain, houndstooth, plaid, checkerboard, or marble).
Arrick admits his concept is “sort of tongue and cheek,” but that hasn’t stopped it from taking off. Butch Bakery has garnered international media attention and Arrick says he is in the middle of negotiating a deal for a television show. He also plans to open a storefront this summer.
“It’s great to be on the other side of ‘Why didn’t I think of that,’” he says.
Of course, Arrick isn’t the only entrepreneur to realize the cupcake, whether dressed in camouflage or decoupage, can anchor an entire business. In recent years, including during the recession, many “cupcakeries” have sprung up around the country. D.C.–based Hello Cupcake is one example.
“It’s been successful beyond my wildest expectations,” says owner Penny Karas, who launched Hello Cupcake in 2007 as a catering business and then opened a storefront in August 2008.
Karas would not get specific with numbers but says Hello Cupcake more than doubled the projected revenues in her initial business plan and reached profitably “much earlier than expected.” On the strength of around-the-block lines, she is in the middle of negotiating a lease for a second location.
As its name indicates, Hello Cupcake is a very different concept than Butch Bakery. With cupcake names like Prima Donna, Princess, and You Tart! (“it’s like a ray of sunshine”), Karas embraces the feminine aesthetic Arrick purposely avoided. Her menu also features vegan and gluten-free items (neither masculine nor feminine, but nonetheless unique).
The difference between the two cupcakeries suggests the diversity of a burgeoning concept that has made inroads across the country, from gourmet establishments in D.C. to “cupcake crawls” in Chicago to a host of sweet spots up and down the West Coast.
Earlier this month, New York City–based Cake and Shake scored a coup when it procured a license to hock its all-organic cupcakes outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than $100,000 per year. That might seem a tidy sum to gamble on eggs, flour, and sugar, but co-owner Gina Ojile is confident in her cupcakes’ ability to turn a profit.
“I’ve never met a person who didn’t like a cupcake,” she says. “It’s fun, it’s simple, it’s self-contained, it’s very American.”
Despite the recent triumphs of the cupcakery concept, operators looking to jump on the gravy train should know that running one is no piece of cake.
“One of the first things I tell people who are thinking about opening a cupcake business is to take the budget they’ve created and the timeline they’ve created and to double it,” Karas says. “That was certainly my experience.”
Butch Bakery has also challenged Arrick, suggesting the demands of effectively running a cupcake operation spare no gender.
“I ran my own law firm for a couple of years,” Arrick says. “That pales in comparison to this.”