Family finds a wicked good way to make money and stay together
Have you ever tasted something so fantastic, so delectable, so heavenly that you utter: “That’s so good I could eat it with a spoon!”?
It’s a figure of speech, of course. At least, that’s what I thought until a carton of Wicked Good Cupcakes arrived on my doorstep one blustery day, as I was recovering from a particularly nasty bout with the flu.
I opened the box to find a half-dozen assorted cupcakes. In jars. With silver plastic spoons, the better to eat them with. A friend, knowing my penchant for all things sweet, had sent them to cheer me up.
I admit I was skeptical. Baked goods are made to be eaten as soon as they come from the oven, in my opinion.
I unscrewed one of the 8-ounce mason jars — I chose “Chocolate Lab” first. It was layer after layer of moist chocolate cupcake, chocolate ganache filling, and chocolate buttercream frosting.
They’re made from scratch in Cohasset by bakers headed by a mother-daughter team who started cooking together in 2010. “Dani was the youngest of my three and the last to move out,” says Tracey Noonan, who is 52. “I was really sad and I asked her to take a cake-decorating class with me.”
Mother and daughter, who was then 21, started to post some of their creations on social media, and soon, family and friends starting asking them to bake. They did all sorts of whimsical and beautiful cupcakes with fondant icing out of their Carver home and began getting corporate clients.
One weekend, they had orders for 600 cupcakes. “We had to decide, do we do it as a hobby out of the house, or do we expand?” Tracey says.
They were nervous. Neither mother nor daughter had attended college. Neither had a business background.
Scott Noonan, Tracey’s husband and Dani’s stepfather, gave them a $30,000 loan with the words: “Sink or swim.”
They swam, sometimes frantically. In late 2011, they rented space in a Cohasset strip mall and added stoves, a walk-in refrigerator, bakers’ racks, freezers, mixers, much of it second-hand. Wicked Good Cupcakes was born.
The business got an unexpected boost in early 2012, when a passenger at the Las Vegas airport who had packed a cupcake jar into her bag was stopped by the federal Transportation Security Administration.
The TSA confiscated the red velvet cupcake — then labeled by the women as “National Velvet” — deeming it a “security risk” because its contents resembled potentially explosive gel. The story went viral — “cupcakes of mass destruction,” they were dubbed — and suddenly, Wicked Good Cupcakes was on the map.
The “National Velvet” cupcakes were renamed “National Security Velvet.”
Later that year, Tracey decided to apply to appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” The reality TV show centers around a group of business moguls and three entrepreneurs who pitch their products and ask for the fat cats’ money and expertise. It can get ruthless, and many contestants are sent packing.
But “Shark” investor Kevin O’Leary gave Tracey and Dani a $75,000 loan that they paid back in six weeks. They had offered him a 20 percent equity share. Instead, he wanted 45 cents for every cupcake jar they sell.
They don’t come cheap. They’re $7.25 (plus shipping) for the equivalent of two cupcakes. Most of the business is online shipping. The jars will keep for up to 10 days.
“We don’t allow the jars to be on the road more than three days,” says Tracey.
After “Shark Tank,” the business took off. O’Leary has visited the Noonans at their Marshfield home, which they were able to purchase thanks to the cupcakes’ success.
“We’ve seen him five times since February,” Tracey says. “We talk constantly. We get so much for our 45 cents a jar.”
But the real heart of the business remains mother and daughter. Tracey is chief executive, Dani Vilagie — she’s now 26 and married — runs the day-to-day operations.
And Scott Noonan, who gave them the $30,000 loan, is the chief financial officer. Yep, he quit his job as chief technical officer at an interactive agency to join up.
They say they complement one another, but it wasn’t easy at first. “For me, the hardest part was walking through the door and realizing I was no longer Mom, but an equal business partner with my daughter,” says Tracey.
“She had to let go of the reins, but once she did, we started working well,” Dani says. And Scott? “I absolutely love it. But I eat too many cupcakes.”
Because there’s so much business, they’ve opened a bakery in Pennsylvania that does online orders, as does the Cohasset site. Two years ago, they opened a kiosk in Faneuil Hall, their only retail outlet. They want to expand to Las Vegas.
In 2014, the company did $2.5 million in business, a 40 percent increase from the year before, Scott says. He projects $3.5 million in sales this year.
They have expanded their line to brownies, pies, and cheesecakes in a jar and are also doing custom-decorated chocolate-covered Oreos. You can get gluten-free for extra, though personally I’ll take the gluten. Just call me a glutton.