‘I Prank Hungry People for a Living': The Story Behind Johnny Cupcakes

"It started as a joke. I started Johnny Cupcakes as a joke, as a social experiment," said Johnny Earle, the CEO and founder of Johnny Cupcakes

From the smell of cupcakes to fake frosting drips, and an entire wall of vintage ovens - most people can assume they are about to find some tasty treats inside of Johnny Cupcakes on Newbury Street.

Take another step inside and follow the pink footsteps on the ground. Soon, you’ll find yourself standing in front of a 12-foot-tall industrial refrigerator with T-shirts laid out on baking sheets, and no desserts to be found.

"It started as a joke. I started Johnny Cupcakes as a joke, as a social experiment," said Johnny Earle, the CEO and founder of Johnny Cupcakes.

But not everyone is thrilled to walk inside the store and find out there are no baked goods.

"We'll try to kindly explain, you know, there's no sugar, no carbs, no fat. It's all fiber. It's all cotton. Our cupcakes are on the t-shirt designs," Earle explained.

“But there's some people that just aren't having it. They'll be mean to us, they'll stomp out or they'll peel out in front of the store. In many times they'll leave terrible reviews online. I put one of those bad reviews on a t-shirt and we've been selling it for $40. And the first week we made over $10,000 selling a shirt with somebody’s very negative review on it. So, I think it's a good example of ways that you can make lemonade out of lemons."

While on tour with his band, On Broken Wings, Earle started selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his car. He then took his business from the road, up into his parents’ attic in Hull, Massachusetts.

Fast forward 20 years, he’s now had more than 1,000 pop-ups and is sharing his recipe to success with NBC10 Boston, taking his T-shirt brand around the globe.

Earle always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He had 16 businesses before he was 16 years old.

"While my friends were hanging out with cute girls at parties, I was hanging out with cute old ladies at craft fairs, and I was making more time for the brand. The more I put in, the more I got back. And by not partying, I was saving so much money and so much time."

It’s that go-getter spirit that has had Earle featured in Forbes, NPR, BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and more. Earle is regularly asked to bring his story and creative marketing techniques to speaking engagements at universities and conferences. He’s also done several collaborations with Nickelodeon, The Simpsons, Linkin Park, Hello Kitty, Gillette, Warner Bros. and Coachella.

Johnny Cupcakes’ flagship store at 279 Newbury St. is moving just a few blocks away to 332 Newbury. That store is expected to open in July.

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