You’ve seen his T-shirts on your favorite TV shows and music videos and maybe wondered, “What is this deadly cupcake all about?” Perhaps you have run into him at one of his “cupperwear” parties. Now, meet the man behind the treat as DUB “chefs” it up with Johnny Cupcakes. But don’t think we just sugarcoated the story of the rise of the cupcake man—Johnny lets us know he can take the heat. Find out how Johnny turned a joke into a recipe for a multi-million-dollar empire.
DUB: So, we assume you started out as a baker, then transitioned into T’s after people thought your baked goods were lip-smacking good, right?
Johnny: Ah...that’s what some may think, but nope. In 2000, I graduated high school and tried out college. After only a few weeks, I dropped out and started up a pin business, where I designed pins/buttons for bands and businesses. In addition to the pins, I worked once or twice a week at a silk-screening shop as well as a record shop called Newbury Comics. Almost every day when I went into work, I was given completely random nicknames for no reason. I guess Johnny is an easy name to throw just about any word at the end of it. While working at the silk-screening shop, making T-shirts for the metal/hardcore band I use to be in (On Broken Wings), I thought it would be funny to make a couple random shirts that said ‘Johnny Cupcakes’ on ’em for the fun of it. So I did.
DUB: When did you realize that the accidental design you created would actually be a cool business?
Johnny: In 2001. I wore my Johnny Cupcakes T-shirt to work, and it caused quite a stir. Not only did everyone I work with want a T-shirt, but most of the customers wanted one as well! While at work, I’d get heaps of compliments, questions, smiles and requests for my T-shirt. I ordered a couple dozen Johnny Cupcakes shirts and sold out of them the day I took ’em off the press! One person would tell 10 people, and 10 people would tell 100 people. So, many random kids would come into Newbury Comics asking me for these Johnny Cupcakes shirts. A couple times a day—nearly every day—I’d have to pretend to go to the bathroom, so I could sneak out and sell gear out of the rusty, dented trunk of my beat up 1989 Toyota Camry.
DUB: How did you vary the cupcake designs?
Johnny: I started brainstorming and sketching up so many different ideas, designs, etc. I began poking fun at pop culture by replacing familiar icons with cupcakes; a Statue of Liberty holding a cupcake instead of a torch, a jet plane dropping cupcakes instead of a bomb, and at the time, the skull and crossbones was all over the place, so I thought it would be funny to replace the skull with a cupcake. That T-shirt seemed to be the boldest, memorable and admirable T-shirt out of the random shirts I continued releasing, so I made it my official logo…and that’s how my brand was born.
DUB: Would you say that you’ve always been a hustler?
Johnny: Growing up as a kid, I’d always noticed my mom being stressed or bummed out about her 9-5 job. Ever since then, I’ve been coming up with little ways to work for myself…lemonade stands to yard sales, magic tricks at kids’ birthday parties to selling tricks, pranks in high school. One day, I sold itching powder to this kid, who put it all down his friend’s back. Turned out his friend was highly allergic to what’s inside itching powder and his back swelled up with hives; he had to be rushed to the emergency room. I almost got kicked out of high school. After returning back from my suspension, I decided to sell something else and went with candy.
DUB: Besides your various jobs, you also toured with a band. Do you think hitting the open road with a band played a role in your brand’s success?
Johnny: Yeah, it played a strong role in my brand’s success. Touring allowed me to step outside of the box and look at the big picture of life. I made friends and contacts in just about every state. I use to wake up early—sometimes even pull all-nighters—just so I could bring my crusty, wrinkled, gas-scented shirts into different shops in each state. I used to call home and have my mom and little sister ship out these shirts to different stores.