Published March 07, 2012
With advertisers targeting men more than ever these days, you’d think there’d actually be something new and innovative with respect to men. No such luck. Most “new” men’s products are macho-fied lady items. You can call it Axe but it’s still scented body wash. And despite its promise to, “keep it clean, keep it lubricated and keep it protected,” Face Lube is basically moisturizer with a hairy-chested moniker.
It’s worse with food. Beyond Hungry Man and Campbell’s Chunky Soups it’s a wasteland. Research shows that men need repeated exposure to commercials to remember products. (Just ask any guy what Kate Upton’s selling in her newest commercial.)
But there's a product that transcends those boundaries. Bake it, says David Arrick, and they will come. We're talking cupcakes --cupcakes that screamed masculinity. None of the frilly pink stuff.
Beer Run is a chocolate-stout cupcake with vanilla stout buttercream topped with chocolate-covered pretzels. The Driller's maple cake, frosted with milk chocolate ganache, is topped with fresh bacon bits that have been roasted with light brown sugar and ground black pepper. Defense Defense is red velvet slathered with Jack Daniel’s cream cheese frosting and a Rum Runner is a rum-raisin cupcake with rum cream cheese frosting.
Arrick, with his game-changing The Butch Bakery Cookbook (Wiley), is the men’s cupcake market maker.
Like millions of Americans, Arrick, a former lawyer, lost his job and his house when the economy tanked. That left him roaming New York City trying to figure out how to get his job back. Instead, he became obsessed with New York’s ubiquitous cupcake shops. “We’re in a recession and there’d be a line around the block for cupcakes,” he remembers.
“I was looking at something that costs like four cents to make and sold for two dollars,” remembers Arrick. He decided he wanted a piece of that.
Bakeries differentiate themselves by saying they’re using grandmother’s recipe, or with unique flavors, or by claiming their buttercream is best. “It’s flour, baking powder and eggs. I mean, how different could they all be,” he reasoned.
His would be. He’d make cupcakes for men.
It was about more than making blue cupcakes. Blue cupcakes evoke masculinity “only when next to pink cupcakes,” he explains. He wanted a cupcake that screamed “men” by virtue of what is was, not in relation to something else. It had to have a genuine masculine aesthetic without being “clichéd, cutesy or cartoony.” To paraphrase The Godfather, he wanted his cupcake to be a masculine cupcake.
The cupcake biz isn’t all sugar and buttercream, “it’s cut-throat,” he says. Break into that world and “you’re going against the man,” he says. “Bakeries protect their turf and customers are brand loyal.”
Other than being “a nice Jewish boy” whose mother taught him “to cook and be self-sufficient,” he knew the basics but wasn’t particularly gifted in the kitchen. Guided by business plan software from Staples (no kidding) he cashed out his 401K.
Arrick built his cupcakes by building a traditional men’s flavor-profile: whiskey, rum, stout, espresso, brandy, cola, cayenne pepper, bacon, peanuts and pretzels.
Getting it right took time. He found tempering chocolate frustrating, “it’s not just melting it.” Too much whisky in buttercream made it a gross liquid. Cayenne pepper didn’t affect texture but could singe sinuses. Too much stout thinned out batter, too little gave no taste; reducing it solved the problem.
Even more distinctive were the thin wood-grain, camo, houndstooth and plaid chocolate disks topping the cupcakes. (Specialty bakeshops sell “transfer sheets” with patterns you gently rub onto chocolate. It requires a lot of patience.)
Some like Coffee Break, espresso- and Kahlúa-infused cake with double-shot espresso buttercream, Rum and Coke and Old-Fashioneds (think Mad Men), worked. Others likes “breakfast cupcake” made with pancake batter and candied sausage, not so much. “Awful,” concludes Arrick.
One Daily Candy mention and orders jumped from five a week to 1,000. “It was just me and two people in a leased commercial kitchen. It was insane,” he remembers. He’s now revamping the website and raising money for his own brick and mortar Butch Bakery, opening later this year.
On an entrepreneurial level, Arrick created the perfect gift for men. On a subconscious level, he created a product that conveys the hope that if you eat this cupcake, women will want to date you and men will want to be you.
A cupcake so good it doesn’t need Kate Upton to sell it. At least not yet.