A long weekend with friends in New York City provided inspiration for couple Matt Fraker and Jason Ferrell to bring their own twist on a delectable personal-sized treat back home. After waiting in line at the famed Magnolia Bakery in 2008, they started talking.
“I remember walking down the sidewalk with our friends and asking jokingly ‘do you want to open a cupcake shop,’” Ferrell said. ”Literally, that’s when the idea was born.”
In less than three years, the couple has put Richmond on the cupcake map with their Short Pump bake shop Frostings earning street cred after competing on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in January.
Shortly after that NYC weekend, Ferrell used his marketing savvy to put together a business plan and while on summer vacation from teaching, Fraker began experimenting in the kitchen.
Fraker decided to resign from teaching that August and the couple signed a lease in November opening shop within a year.
“For me, I knew that teaching wasn’t where I wanted be for thirty years,” Fraker said.
In addition to working at Capital One, Ferrell runs the marketing and accounting side of Frostings while Fraker manages day-to-day operations. Their tag-teaming has given Ferrell the chance to plan what’s next as Fraker takes care of the “now” in the shop.
“When you’re there full-time, there’s just so much about what’s in front of you that has to get done,” Ferrell said.
Fraker with Frostings team member Amanda Thomas
Food Network contacted Frostings in February 2010, making mention of their new show Cupcake Wars. After submitting an audition video, the bakery got some buzz, but never heard back.
Take a look at Frostings’ audition video below.
Then last August, the call came in. Food Network asked if they were interested in auditioning for this season.
Fraker and Ferrell hosted a viewing party at Short Pump’s Wine Loft during the show’s January debut with 75 family and friends to see the results of the Wicked-themed competition.
“Because we had to stay quiet, truly nobody at the party knew what was going to happen,” Fraker said. ”There was so much excitement watching….It’s really cool seeing yourself on TV with that Food Network logo.”
Frostings made it to the second round of the competition before being selected as runner up. “The whole place erupted into applause,” Ferrell said. ”It’s one of those once in a lifetime kinds of things. Why wouldn’t you want to celebrate that?”
“Matt was very anxious with how he was going to be portrayed on TV. The overwhelming response from friends and other people was how he was so together and so calm,” Ferrell said. ”He did Richmond proud, he did his family proud, it didn’t matter that he was the runner up.”
Cupcake Wars proved a full win in sales. Frostings doubled their January business over last year.
Fraker and Ferrell met at college ten years ago.
Fraker and Ferrell learned how to balance business and relationship early on.
“I was in cupcake land all day long and Jason wasn’t,” Fraker said. ”It was easier for me to get to a point where I didn’t want to talk about cupcakes anymore. We make the decisions we need to and escape the best that we can.”
Outside of the shop, part of escaping involves food. Fraker admits to planning his dinner menu throughout the workday – making a run to close by Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for a few ingredients.
“Generally most nights, part of the unwinding process is cooking dinner and having a glass of wine,” he said.
Growing up, Fraker loved being in the kitchen with his mother. Meals made from scratch brought everyone together around the table.
“I come from a family of nurturers through food,” he said. ”Cooking is very much what they do.”
It’s much more than cupcake baking in the kitchen of their west end home.
“I think he makes Indian food better than you can get in a lot of restaurants,” Ferrell boasts of his husband’s culinary skills. ”There’s not much of anything he doesn’t like to cook.”
On an evening out, they like to try a new place – some recent favorites include The Roosevelt and The Blue Goat.
“I follow a lot of local chefs and restaurants on Twitter to see what people are buzzing about,” Fraker said.
With the whirlwind of a television appearance, running a business, and balancing a personal life, the couple emphasizes the importance of being able to refresh. After building a team of a dozen employees, they can occasionally breakaway to their Rappahannock home to relax and rejuvenate.
“We both like spending time around the water,” Ferrell said. ”You invest so much in work. The time you spend together, you want to be able to get away.”
The two met ten years ago through a mutual friend during Fraker’s last year at James Madison University. Fraker was a vocal major and Ferrell was studying business at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“We spent a lot of time together that first summer, then we had to go back to school and that’s when it hit me,” Ferrell said. ”It was going to be tough to enter into something long distance.” As Fraker began looking for job placements, he split his student teaching between Harrisonburg and Richmond.
Both came from supportive families that joined in celebrating their marriage on a hot August day at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Fraker jokes that family was more concerned about Frostings opening than coming out.
“[Being gay] It’s been very normal. There’s not any drama when it comes to that,” Fraker said. ”I remember when we were opening the bakery — I’m pretty sure his mom thought we were crazy.”
While the cupcake is still considered by many to be merely a fashionable food fad, Ferrell has a long-term vision for the humble dessert’s potential.
“Look at Starbucks,” he said. ”It’s created space as a low-ticket luxury good,” Ferrell said.
Aside from what’s next (plans for expanding distribution, a second location on the radar!), the big question is how do these guys stay so trim surrounded by sweets?
Ferrell offers a quick answer – and one that could easily be marketed.
“The cupcake is natural portion control.”
Frostings is at 11331 West Broad Street, Glen Allen, VA and online at http://frostingsva.com/.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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