Caked in class
From humble street corner beginnings, via a brush with primetime television royalty, Magnolia Bakery has grown into a global brand, bringing classic American baked goods to customers throughout the world
It is said that a good many of us will get our ‘15 minutes of fame’ at some point in our lifetime. For Magnolia Bakery, all it took was 30 seconds of television screen time in 2000 to kick start the considerable growth of what was, at the time, a single store operation located on a quiet street corner in the heart of New York City’s West Village.
The 30 seconds in question occurred during an episode of HBO’s Sex and the City, which featured two of the series’ leading ladies eating cupcakes outside of Magnolia. With that, the bakery became ingrained in popular culture and the lines that quickly started forming from its entrance would be made up of those consumers that helped spark a global cupcake craze that created a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Prior to its dalliance with cable television, Magnolia Bakery was the brainchild of high school friends turned business partners, Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey, who opened up their dream bake shop in July 1996, initially functioning as a small neighbourhood bakery selling products made in small batches on home kitchen equipment. Following Jennifer’s departure from the business in 1999, it was then in 2006 that Allysa sold her incredibly popular business to its now CEO Steve Abrams and his wife Tyra.
At the time, Steve was enjoying a fruitful career within the construction industry, yet it was his background in the world of food that allowed for a smooth transition and helped him to quickly identify the potential of the Magnolia brand. “Since the day we took over the original Magnolia Bakery we have employed a very detailed, slow growth philosophy,” Steve begins. “We immediately set about dissecting the bakery in order to distil the essence of what made Magnolia so great and interesting. We recognised that, in part due to its size, the atmosphere the store created allowed it to become something of a theatre experience for the customer where they could see and smell amazing, fresh products being baked and prepared in-store, all the while being surrounded by nostalgic, pastel-coloured décor. It was this concept and value proposition that we decided we wanted to scale up and market on an international basis.”
The global expansion of the Magnolia brand commenced with the opening of a store within Bloomingdale’s at the Dubai Mall. “Initially, this was really seen as a fun opportunity to run with and see how things would develop, but what it did was create an enormous amount of interest in the brand overseas, leading to a high volume of incoming requests for franchise opportunities,” Steve continues. “Since then, we have become extremely well entrenched within the region, with locations today in Dubai, as well as Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha, to name a few. Next came a period of growth in Asia, including stores in Seoul, South Korea. In the meantime, further stores have appeared in Mexico City, and domestically in Chicago and Los Angeles.”
While Magnolia Bakery did commence life as a cupcake centric operation, it was never just a one product wonder, boasting a diverse line of other products. “Although we have succeeded greatly in riding the worldwide cupcake craze, we never wanted our notoriety to be gained in that one space alone,” Steve explains. “Therefore, what we have done is work very hard to raise the profile of our many other product lines. Our second largest line is our banana pudding, which possesses a truly fervent following of people that are crazy about the product, while the 230-250 different recipes we have in our pocket also include a range of cheesecakes, cakes, blondies and brownies, cookies, pies and icebox desserts. At the same time, we work closely with our local partners around the world to cater for the demand for various local delicacies, which we can put our own Magnolia spin on.”
The brand’s local partners that play a vital role in ensuring that Magnolia’s products maintain their quality and consistency whether they are being served in New York or Chicago, or in Mexico City or Doha. “Over the course of the last decade we have become experts in managing our activities correctly so as to maintain the same taste profile across all of our stores,” Steve points out. “Sometimes achieving this requires the use of different ingredients, which is why we have head bakers who are prepared to go out to certain markets to test for quality and consistency. It is this level of dedication that has allowed us to maintain the reputation that the Magnolia brand has become known for wherever it exists.”
In addition to the success that the Magnolia brand has achieved, the brand’s popularity has also provided Steve with the opportunity to supersize his philanthropic efforts, which is a source of great personal importance. From daily donations to local food pantries to international relief efforts, over the years Magnolia has partnered with the likes of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Autism Speaks, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, giving away between $2.5 million and $3 million worth of product in the process.
As this programme of ‘Giving Back’ continues into 2018, so too does the brand’s path towards thoughtful, appropriate growth. “This year we will begin looking to take on growth money, acknowledging the fact that we strongly believe that we have a solid platform for exponential growth laid down before us,” Steve adds. “With the brand in a strong place, we can now start looking for international partners who can support Magnolia’s growth both domestically and internationally.
“We feel that said partners will find that this is an exciting time for the brand, with new markets including Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia and the Philippines coming online in 2018,” Steve adds. “Furthermore, we have two corporately-owned stores that we are opening domestically in Washington D.C.’s Union Station and Faneuil Hall in Boston, both holding prime spots in high profile, high traffic locations, and we will continue to support the growth of our existing franchisees. After all, it is because of these individuals, together with all of the amazing, dedicated and enthusiastic people that make up Magnolia, that we have been able to execute our vision so successfully.”