RED BANK – Holy Cannoli! Red Bank’s own Mr. Cupcake is going to be on national television this Sunday competing in the Food Network’s Cupcake War, and if he wins, the victory will be sweet.
The popular weekly series features four top cupcake bakers recruited from around the country. The four contestants vie for the top prize of $10,000 by competing in a series of cupcake challenges.
Once a humble dessert most frequently found at classroom birthday parties and booster club bake sales, the cupcake has come into its own in recent years, achieving a level of popularity that’s been a sweet dream for bakers like John Manganiotis, a.k.a. Mr. Cupcake.
Manganiotis owns four Mr. Cupcakes stores: the one inside Ricky’s Candies at 86 Broad St. in Red Bank, and three others in Clifton, Hackensack and Oradell.
Manganiotis’ grandfather owned a diner, and his father was in the restaurant business before opening a convenience store in Clifton.
“We were very well liked in Clifton,” the younger Manganiotis said.
He had tried college and knew it wasn’t for him. He dreamed of having his own business.
He went to work for an Italian bakery, where he trained as a baker.
“I’d never baked before,” he said. When the owners decided it was time to move on, Manganiotis asked them to sell him the bakery.
He was 22.
“I told them, ‘I have no money, but I have a dream,”’ he said during an interview with The Two River Times at Ricky’s on Tuesday. “They took a gamble on me and I was in business.”
He soon decided to move away from the traditional bakery idea and specialize in one thing: cupcakes. “I just wanted to focus on one product and make it the best,” he says now.
The humble cupcake was about to have a makeover.
Soon, Manganiotis was creating his own cupcake recipes, such as his French Toast cupcake that incorporates maple syrup and cinnamon into the cupcake batter.
His new enterprise was attracting attention, and soon Manganiotis was doing radio and television interviews.
“I opened up in September and by November I was on TV and everything. “My story got the people in the door and my amazing product kept them coming in.”
His father soon joined him in the business and that allowed him to expand to other locations, Manganiotis said.
Today, cupcakes are in demand for weddings, baby showers and other large events, with the Mr. Cupcakes outlet in Red Bank filling at least 5 ‘cupcake tier’ orders every weekend.
And when the buyer comes back to return the tier, they usually order a few more cupcakes to take home since there are seldom any left over.
Red Velvet cupcakes are most popular right now, and Mr. Cupcakes features two different versions, one that celebrates the southern red velvet tradition and another that puts a more creative spin on the red velvet idea.
Other popular flavors are Cookie Jar, Carrot Cake and Peanut Butter & Jelly. “The reason why my cupcakes are different is that all the ingredients are in the batter,” says Manganiotis.
As his status as a cupcake celebrity grew, he was invited to appear on season one of the “Cupcake Wars,” in a show that is frequently re-broadcast. On that episode, he admits, “I kind of got hosed.”
But he was recently invited to return for a re-match.
This Sunday at 8 p.m. on the Food Network, four bakers will compete in three rounds of baking challenges designed to test their baking, production and time management skills.
And while he knows how the competition turns out, Manganiotis isn’t saying. “Food Network has a really strict policy. There’s a $500,000 fine.”