David Arrick Interview
("Mr. Cupcake" - Butch Bakery)
He’s been an actor.
He’s been a Personal Trainer.
He’s been a Manhattan real estate attorney.
He’s the owner of Butch Bakery and the author of The Butch Bakery Cookbook (Wilcy Books).
We talked with the man who’s been called “Mr.Cupcake” – David Arrick.
Q – David, cupcakes have been around forever. What’s behind this explosion of interest in cupcakes, particularly in New York City? I don’t get it.
A – I have an opinion on that and I think that it’s spot on. I started my co. during the recession. In a very obvious sense the cupcake phenomenon is very recession friendly if you think about it. You’re not going in there to commit to a huge cake. You’re committing to a 2” by 2” round sort of disc cylinder of cake and you eat it in four or five bites and you’re done. It’s less calories and it’s cheaper. In that respect and I’ve never been tested on that or never been any economic analysis on that, but I think it’s pretty accurate. That being said, that’s my immediate answer to why it’s so ‘hot’ now.
Q – Talking about the recession: You’re charging $4.25 per cupcake?
A – Yeah.
Q – Who’s got that kind of money to spend on one cupcake?!
A – I think you do sort of a quick analysis in your mind when you go into buy something and sort of do a cost benefit and think, how is this gonna please me in four bites? And, can I justify spending the four bucks? It’s an immediate pleasure. It’s smaller. I don’t know. I’ve never done a psychological analysis of this, but, I think you pass it, you know you’re gonna eat it and it’s not a huge cake. You compare it in your mind to a large cake and that being said, you look at my cupcakes and think wow! they look so different than any other cupcake so I can justify paying a buck more on this, because I know it’s going to make a statement. I think that’s why it’s worked.
Q – I think for $3.99 you can buy six cupcakes?
A – Yeah. You’re right. The beauty of starting a business in New York City is that New Yorkers they’ll pay for things. It’s been an amazing, wild ride from the beginning, from an entrepreneurial perspective. People will pay it. On that note I’ve gotten requests from all around the world. Right now we’re working on the shipping aspect of this, but, I know I was onto something ‘hot’ when I was getting orders from as far away as Brazil, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Q – You haven’t shipped to those people have you?
A – No. Not yet.
Q – I don’t even know how you could. Part of the appeal is the freshness of the cupcake. How do you maintain that if you’re shipping to Brazil or India?
A – Yeah. Good question. We’re still working through the kinks on that. Cos. to do that. They do ship. The beauty of baked goods is you can flash-freeze them. That’s the concept. Flash-freezing the baked goods. They will freeze for 24 hours like that and be fresh right when you defrost them. So, it can be done and we’re still working on that.
Q – You’re baking the cupcakes in a commercial kitchen?
A – Yeah. That was important to me when I started the co. because I didn’t have the start-up capital to open up a million-dollar store or half-million dollar store location in mid-Manhattan. I knew I had to do something that was cost-effective. I was boot-strapping my own business by myself without help through my 401 K and that’s it. I was laid off. I certainly didn’t have the foresight to realize my story would resonate throughout the world really. I because this sort of entrepreneurial face of the recession, how to re-invent yourself in the recession. I ended up on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine about a year after starting my business and I thought this was not my intention. I was profiled by every major magazine and newspaper from the Wall Street Journal to Cosmo to Marie Claire to Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg Business Week and then I was being courted by every television station to be a talking head on entrepreneurship. I was a regular on Fox for awhile. That was never my intention. I’m an actor. I was trained as an actor. I went to NYU. So, for me this was a very easy transition. And then when the television people stated calling from L.A. and I had an agent and were talking about reality shows and them I got a book deal, I thought Whoaa!! Take a step back here. This is something to kill a little time before I went back to practicing law and suddenly it had a life of it’s own. It got too big too quickly and I had to scale things back. I did rent two commercial spaces, one in Queens, for a little while. That became too expensive and not good for a variety of reasons. And, I took another place on the Upper East side and then I recently shot that place down. What I’m doing now is looking for my flagship store. I’m raising capital to do that.
Q – You’re looking for investors?
A – Investors yeah. I was on Bloomberg television about a year ago. I was in Bloomberg Business Week Magazine. I was on their television panel as well on entrepreneurship. I’m an entrepreneur at heart and by nature, and a go-getter. A very ambitious guy. I never expected that this was going to be the vehicle to get me the next step in terms of this was going to be that A-ha business that ‘Why didn’t I think of that kind of thing’, Cupcakes for guys? Who would’ve thought? Not me. It happened very quickly. I was very surprised by it.
Q – If the cupcakes are being baked in a commercial kitchen, what work were you doing in your apartment?
A – I was never doing anything in the apartment. I knew right away from a legal perspective that was illegal. I knew that I didn’t want to get in trouble and I knew right away that I had score a commercial kitchen I could rent. Good thing living in New York City and I imagine elsewhere as well, there’s a lot of places that are willing to rent you their space or zone commercially and that’s what I found. I found a huge commercary kitchen that I could rent by the shift.
Q – Probably off-hours.
A – Yeah. That’s the thing. 12-6, Midnight to 6 A.M. Hire my bakers to come in and they’re there all night. They bake 500 cupcakes, store them in the freezer and they’re ready to go.
Q – Do you make cupcakes as well?
A – I’m in the trenches with my guys. Certainly in the beginning anyone who’s not doing that is really a fool. You have to know how your business is running from all aspects. What happened 6-7 months into the business, is I gave the reigns over to my bakers. What was happening was happening very quickly. I was getting all this media attention. We had television cameras following us all the time, 6-8 months into the business. I thought you’ve got to focus in the quality of your goods here. You can’t be sort of transfixed by Hollywood. The cameras were on me on a weekly basis. We filmed a reality show. We didn’t end up selling it, but, for months there were cameras in my face from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. at night. It was a lot of fun and it was big, serious Hollywood people. I loved that aspect of it. I still do love that aspect of being an entrepreneur. I love telling the story. I love inspiring through television media. That’s what I love. I decided at the end of the Summer, beginning of the Fall (2011), to just stop production at this space. It wasn’t working out for me at that space. Let me stop, the book is coming out, let me gear up for the book and really get out there and promote the book. Do the t.v. shows. Do the radio shows. Do what I need to do to promote the book and raise capital and then in the Winter (of 2012) really start looking for the space and that’s where I’m at now, looking for the money.
Q – Does an investor in your business need a baking background?
A – No.
Q – If you get someone with say an accounting background, how are they going to understand the point you’re trying to make?
A – I think it’s a good point. I think there are two schools of investors – angel investors that just have a lot of money, that want to invest and believe in your concept, and your goal. A good thing with my concept and my goal is I come with an audience. It’s not something I’m starting right now and saying, ‘Look, I need $5 million dollars here. Just on blind faith will you invest in me’? What I’ve done is, I come to the table with a vast array of social media, interest from television people, a published book now. So, I come with a built-in audience. That’s to my benefit. So, that’s helping opening doors. There are two schools. There are investors who exclusively invest in food-related businesses. And there are others. I’ve been courting people in the fashion world. I’ve never expected that this would take off in the fashion world and the trendy food world in New York City and it has. My brother works for a big fashion house and got me a meeting in there one day and it’s taken off since then. When I ended up in Cosmo and Marie Claire I thought Wow! this is working in so many different ways, this business. Very Surprised.
Q – It’s because it’s a new twist in cupcakes.
A – Yeah.
Q – Plenty of people out there are making cupcakes, but, cupcakes for guys?
A – Whoever heard of this? I get this question all the time. How did you come up with the concept? There’s no mystique. What happened is, I was walking down the street. I had lost my job on Wall Street. I needed a job. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get arrested. I couldn’t get hired.
Q – That’s what I find so strange. You were a real estate attorney?
A – That’s correct.
Q – If you listen to Donald Trump, real estate in Manhattan is the “hottest” thing going. Is that not true?
A – Well, I think we live in a bubble here in Manhattan. There’s no question about that. Real Estate will always be ‘hot’. Yes, we took a hit but, any of the statistics you see with respect to real estate are a little skewed when it comes to Manhattan real estate. There’s always going to be a demand for Manhattan real estate. Yes, the prices came down, but not as much as they have throughout the country. And so there is a demand for it, but also keep in mind I was not only doing real estate purchasing condos and co-ops and the likes, I was representing banks that were investing in securities and trading on Wall Street. I was drafting the documents that were being invested via the security instruments themselves. That industry specifically took an enormous hit in the economy. In fact, when I lost my job I went to Dubai and I got a job in Dubai. I thought if I can’t work here, I’m a single guy, I didn’t have any kids at the time, I do now, but this is in 2008, 2009, I just thought let me just pick up and go to the Middle East. So, I went to Dubai where I thought that’s where all the real estate development is. I was hired to develop Universal Studios Dubai land by a big co. I came back and was settling up my affairs here in New York and that all collapsed and the offer was rescinded. So, I never ended up going to Dubai. I thought I’ve never been un-employed since I was 16 years old. Here I’m this educated guy, I’m ambitious. This happened to other people. I didn’t think it would happen to me. I had some real estate investments that completely went under water. It was like, for lack of a better word, I’m really screwed here. I thought what am I going to do? So, I live near a very famous bakery in New York City and I was walking by and the line was around the block. This is a recession! I had also read the owners of the bakery had sold their business for $4 million dollars. I thought this is flour, sugar and oil. How did they do that? As a student of entrepreneurship and of marketing I just thought there’s something here and I’ve got to do something. Now is the time! So, I literally locked myself in my apartment and I didn’t let myself out for 2-3 days. I ordered in some Chinese food, (laughs), and anything else we do in New York City and I bought some software down at Staples. It was a business plan software. I’d never done anything like that. I knew the legal aspects of business formation but, I didn’t know all the intricacies of it. I never had to do it before. I thought what am I going to do, cupcakes? What does that mean? Define what that means? What do you want to do with cupcakes? You want to do something different. Really? So does everyone else. Cupcakes are ‘hot’. Everyone says this is my grandmother’s recipe, the best cupcake ever. This uses only the finest ingredients. That makes us different. O.k. Everyone says they use the finest ingredients. Everyone says their recipe is different. Everyone says they’re gonna be better than the next guy on Main Street. Everyone is better than the next. When I looked at that I kind of laughed at it. Are you really better? The answer is no. What makes a bakery or a food product different? The marketing. It’s a huge part of this. We eat with our eyes first, right? I’m a big fan of being a niche entrepreneur. I think that’s a great concept. Anyone can be an entrepreneur if you think about it. What is your niche market? I thought no one has ever targeted guys. I started looking at the media. Wow! They do target men, but, it’s an un-tapped market. It’s not exhausted yet. I thought could I possibly make cupcakes for guys? What does that mean? The software would ask me all these questions and ask me to really flush it out. And, it was hard. It required a lot of thought. The minute I started going into cliché like sports-oriented cupcakes, anyone can order sports. And then the other cliché was you’re going to have cupcakes that have bikinis on them, something you might get at a frat party or a bachelor party. That’s been done. Any bakery will do that if you ask for it. So, I thought I need to shy away from those two extremes. What’s something a little different? Let me just make them look aesthetically masculine. How do you do that? Camouflage, houndstooth, plaid. All those different sort of fabric profiles. Can I do this? Is this too whacky? How do I get fabric on the cupcakes? That’s how it started. How do you mass produce these? Then I came up with this idea of using these chocolate discs and that was a way to mass produce them and give them the look they needed. So, I knew I was on to something.
Q – Are guys in fact buying your cupcakes or are women buying them for their boyfriends or husbands?
A – That’s a good point. That’s exactly what it is I think. I recognize that 95% of the market for cupcakes is women anyway. It wasn’t going to change just because I came along. I know I had to target the women. My husband is just turning 30, 35, just got a promotion. Isn’t this great! Businesses started calling me. Law firms. Construction cos. Architecture cos. We would love two dozen camouflage cupcakes, a dozen hound tooth cupcakes. It’s for a meeting. It just never stopped. And so, that’s how it started.
Q – J-Lo and Marc Anthony have tried your cupcakes. Have there been any other celebrities that you can mention? Some people won’t name “names”.
A – I can’t name ‘names’ either. With J-Lo and Marc Anthony The Irish Times called me for a quote on something. That morning J-Lo’s agent called me and this is in the hey-day of filming the reality show and they needed cupcakes in an hour ‘cause it was Marc Anthony’s birthday. I couldn’t do it. Of course much to my agent’s chagrin, I should have figured out a way to do it, but, there wasn’t enough time.
Q – You were a celebrity trainer. Who were some of the celebrities you trained? Can you mention any names?
A – Sure. Conan O’Brien was my client for 7 years. He was my biggest guy. I started working out with him right after he took over the gig from David Letterman at NBC. I was an actor at the time. I was was waiting tables and to supplement my income I was working at a gym store. I was also a big fitness buff and still am. I was working out and decided to become a certified trainer even though I was a cliché actor/writer. I didn’t want to do that. I’ve always shied away from the cliché. I never wanted to do what everyone else did. So, I said let me do something a little different. So, I started this business. I actually got a call from Edgar Bronfman Sr. He was the CEO of Seagram. I got a call from his assistant. This was when I was with Conan as well. At one point I was working out with Edgar Bronfman Sr. at this Park Avenue office and then I was going to N.B.C. at 10 o’clock. I was like – Who am I? I think I remember asking Edgar Bronfman one day, why me? Why did you choose me out of all the personal trainers you could have chosen? I was honored that he chose me. He said, ‘You were the only Jewish personal trainer I met’. (Laughs). So, there you go.
Q – You got these high profile clients, how? Word-of-mouth?
A – That was word-of-mouth. I just entered the upper echelon of trainer dom which was great, but, I never wanted to do that as a living. In my second year of law school I sold that business and gave all my clients away thinking I would get more job security by being an attorney. It turns out I didn’t.
Q – What a surprise that is. Really.
A – I couldn’t believe it. Two months into starting my business the online marketing co. Daily Candy, they called me about 3 or 4 days before Valentine’s Day. They only touch your business if you’re about 6 or 8 weeks old. If you’re older than that they don’t want to know about you. They just want what’s cutting edge and new. They called saying, ‘We’re profiling your business’. I was the lead story. It went out to 2 million people that morning. It was called, ‘A Buttercream Bromance’. It stuck and I love it. David Arrick is having a Buttercream Bromance. It went out February 12th and then February 14th it was Valentine’s Day and I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught. I thought I’d get a couple of orders. I got a thousand orders in one day. Double-edge sword. Could I fill them all? Absolutely 1,000% No. But, the word got out there. Again, the whole story for the last couple of years has been an enormous onslaught of media attention. Then when Bobby Flay was calling and I’m doing work with Marc Summers of ‘Unwrapped’ from the Food Network. It just hasn’t stopped.
Q – Not to be able to fill all the orders that came in – wasn’t that negative in some way?
A – Yeah, because in the beginning I was only renting space on a per shift basis. It was two shifts a week. That’s all I could afford. So, we could produce 400-500 cupcakes a week, but, that’s not a lot. I was selling out very, very quickly. I felt bad about that. People go into business five years without having the press attention I got. The cart was before the horse, because I wasn’t that established. But, I was getting the media attention based on the concept. There was something that was resonating – Good Guy, Done Good in a bad economy. I became this voice of re-invention. And, I loved every second of it.
Q – You were on Rachael Ray’s Show?
A – I was on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine in August of 2010. I had mentioned in that article that I considered myself a cross between Rachael Ray and Guy Fiera, neither of which are professional chefs by the way. Two weeks later my agent called me, from L.A. and said Rachael Ray’s people want to talk to you. So, I immediately went to their studios in New York and they said, ‘We want you on the show’. I was like, o.k. I was on the show with Ted Danson. I wasn’t even making cupcakes. I was there with my chef’s jacket on. I was there talking to Rachael about entrepreneurship. They had cameras follow me for a week. They watched me on deliveries. They watched me in the kitchen. They started interviewing the people I worked with. They basically said to me, ‘We don’t want you on just once this year. We want you on, on a regular basis. We want you to be a buddy with Rachael and to be the Cupcake King and to be the Simon Cowell of Cupcakes. I was being courted by these people. And then I signed with a guy out in L.A. to develop some t.v. projects and that’s where I’m at now. The New Year – who knows what it’s gonna bring.
Official website: www.butchbakery.com
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