By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
I am so happy to welcome my friends, The Brooklyn Baking Barons (Chris Poeschl and Tony Lanuza), to Jake’s Take!
I met Chris and Tony, two years ago, while waiting in line for a taping of The View and they were offering everyone that was waiting in line a bite of their world famous Honey Whiskey Cake. Since I took my first bite of this irresistible dessert, I became an instant fan. But, I was not the only person that became a fan. When Chris and Tony presented the Honey Whiskey Cake to The View hosts, Whoopi Goldberg nearly “stole” the whole cake and almost walked off the ABC daytime talk show with it.
After that chance encounter on The View, Chris and Tony found themselves on HGTV, NBC 4 New York, and on The Chew, where both Mario Batali and Michael Symon praised the cake. Also, The Pioneer Woman and Food Network star Ree Drummond stated that the cake was “pretty much the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
Besides appearing on television, the Brooklyn Baking Barons attracted the attention of numerous publications such as Coastal Style, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Jarry, People Magazine, and the Robb Report.
In this edition of A Conversation, Chris and Tony shared their origin story, which Food Network show they turned down three times and talked about the differences between their social media strategies for Facebook and Instagram.
Jacob Elyachar: Could you please describe the Brooklyn Baking Barons’ origin story to my readers?
Chris Poeschl: Tony and I were both working in entertainment. He was a costume designer on Broadway, and I was a musical theater actor. Like all freelance work, one day you have the best job and the next you’re unemployed. We were in between jobs and Tony, and I were incredibly poor. My birthday was a few days away, and Tony told me that he could not afford to get me a gift, and he offered to make me a cake instead. After I had said, “Of course.” he asked me what kind of cake I wanted. I stated that I wanted a Rum Cake but not a Rum Cake. When I came back from an audition, Tony made the first version of the Honey Whiskey Cake. It immediately became legendary.
Tony Lanuza: After that first bite, I said: “Chris, this cake will make us millions.” We rapidly tried to get the word out about the cake. Originally, we wanted to start a food blog, but neither of us is organized to do a blog. (Chris shakes his head) We decided to go a different route, and that’s when we met you.
JE: What were some of the challenges that you faced building your culinary brand? How did you overcome them?
CP: A lot of challenges come about when you need to grow and expand. This past year, our cake was featured in People Magazine on The Pioneer Woman’s holiday gift list. We got a call from them in October, and they shared the news that we made their list. They also asked us: “Can you handle being on our list?” We told them: “Totally, it is going to be great!” After we screamed in delight, reality set in. We were in a 500-square-foot kitchen space, and we realized we needed to look for a bigger kitchen. Tony and I had to leave the city for a little while, and we found a 5,000-square-foot bakery for a fraction of the cost of commercial space in Brooklyn. Getting into that space and figuring out all of the logistics for this holiday gift list, while maintaining our current orders, booking events, and moving our equipment were the challenges.
TL: We are primarily a 21st-century pop-and-pop shop. We have all of the old fashioned problems such as keeping up with customer demands and inventory. But, because we are in the 21st century, we have to keep up with marketing and social media. Every day is a learning experience and what makes this an amazing experience is that we get to work together.
CP: There are all these additional skills that you have to learn. Food is such a visual industry, and we had to teach ourselves how to create beautiful photos with a quality camera. If you looked at our first Instagram posts and to our current posts, there is a huge difference between the quality of pictures. We have learned a lot through trial, error, and time. It helped us grow as professionals.
JE: Your cake has attracted a lot of love from various media personalities. What have been some of your favorite encounters with the press?
TL: Since we were a part of the entertainment industry, people always forget about the crew. While all of the actors or media personalities would get these great things, the crew would feel left out. First, we went to The Chew. Then, the week after that we met you at The View. We brought two boxes of cake, one for the hosts and one for the crew.
CP: Initially, we offered the cake to the crew first. We thought if we scratched the crew’s back, they would scratch ours.
TL: When we finally got the box to The Chew, the crew gave it to Michael Symon. After we had left the studio, we walked to Lincoln Center. Suddenly, we got a lot of tweets. Mario Batali said “I tasted them, now I dream of them!”, while Michael Symon said it was “the best sweet bite of the year.” Two days later, Daphne Oz wrote us this massive e-mail saying how it was the most amazing cake she ever tasted and asked us if we could send the cake out to all of her agents and to this woman named Ree Drummond. Two days after we sent out the cake, I was looking through our e-mail, and I found an e-mail from a very familiar name, and I shouted: “Oh my god, it’s The Pioneer Woman!” and one year later, she puts us on her favorite things list.
JE: Speaking of Ree Drummond, have you thought about bringing your brand to either the Food Network or the Cooking Channel?
CP: We have been pursued to some extent by the Food Network. It asked us to do Chopped three times, but every time producers speak with us: “I tell them that we are a duo. If the show decides to a team edition of Chopped, we are your guys.”
TL: But, we would love to be involved in the television side of the industry. Our initial goal was and still is to make people want to cook, and we feel like they can. We feel like we could be a good fit for the network.
CP: Right now, there is nobody on television that is representing our age group.
TL: While, the Food Network has launched the careers of Mario, Emeril, and Giada, there is always room for some fresh blood.
JE: Let’s talk about social media. The Brooklyn Baking Barons’ two primary social media platforms are Facebook and Instagram. Are there any similarities or differences between the strategies you use for the platforms?
TL: Food is such a visual experience. Don’t get me wrong; I like Twitter, but it is not the right platform for our brand. Pictures say a thousand words, so Instagram makes it very easy to get our message across. While we do have a Facebook page, we feel like that New York City is a very Instagram city.
CP: Some of the biggest lessons that we learned as we grew our brand’s presence on social media included the time and the day we post, the types of images to use, and how to tag things correctly. There is a strategy that we use when it comes to social media.
JE: What’s next for the Brooklyn Baking Barons?
CP: We launched two new flavors of cake this year. Now, we have a trio of cakes.
TL: In addition to the original Honey Whiskey cake, we now have a Churro Cake, which is our version of a Rum Cake coated in cinnamon and sugar.
CP: As fall begins, we would probably put out a chocolate cake of some variety.
TL: Maybe, our version of a Chocolate Kahlua Cake!
JE: If you had to chance to meet with entrepreneurs who want to pursue a career in the culinary industry, what advice would you share with them?
CP: There is a lot of room at the table. Since we have moved from entertainment into the culinary industry, people have been very supportive. There is respect for the game. You should not fear the competition, while it is out there, they will have your back when you need them. Also, people need to plan to work 12 to 14 hours a day, because there is no part-time work when it comes to starting a business.
TL: We have had only two days off since November.
CP: We work seven days a week, but only after two years are we able to say: “We can take a day for ourselves now.”
TL: If you are creating a business with someone else, you need to be supportive of each other.
CP: Be bold and be fearless! If you have something that is unique and original that you know better than anything else out there, then the business will build itself.
To learn more about the Brooklyn Baking Barons and how you can get your order of Honey Whiskey Cake, visit their website!