If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it seems Russell Lewis, owner of The Baker Boys, Ocean Grove, N.J. thinks the world of Magnolia and other recently successful New York City cupcake bakeries.
Lewis moved to Ocean Grove as an entrepreneur seeking to find a business to suit the needs of the gentrifying beach town. There, he met co-founder Paul Connolly. The two were inspired by Magnolia and the cupcake trend.
“Our business idea was to offer a real slice of Americana, in the Betty Crocker mould, with cookies, bars and cupcakes. We wanted to ride the wave that was coming out of New York,” Lewis said. “We landed an 800-sq.-ft. retail space with 1,500 sq. ft. in the basement on a cute little main street, so that worked in our favor.”
Lewis hired Carol McGavin-Maxwell, an executive chef with culinary training and a pastry degree, and introduced her to the idea. They began researching the bakeries they wanted to emulate by studying their menus. They noticed in the product lines an awareness and curiosity of forgotten favorites like banana cheesecake and red velvet cake.
To market the product and build buzz, Lewis gave away almost everything he made for the first six weeks the shop was open. He hadn't even installed a cash register yet. Lewis, who has a background in theater, had built in a long rehearsal period to help make the business opening go off without a hitch. He recommends soft openings when possible with careful budgeting.
“Also, it gives you a good amount of customer feedback and free market research. When I was giving away product, all I asked in return was that people were honest with me in what they thought,” Lewis said. Bundt cakes, for example, fell out of the product mix after proving unpopular during the soft opening.
“The whole concept is to get people to reconnect with food and have a connection with the people making the food” Lewis said. “We aren't healthy by any stretch, and we sure use a lot of butter, but we use no shortening, and our buttercream is real buttercream.”
With the retail business being particularly seasonal in a beach town, The Baker Boys supplements with wholesale accounts during slow seasons. All baking is done on-site. Achieving success with their first location, the entrepreneurs are planning to open another location this spring.