Jeff Martin has found losing to be a sweet ingredient to his success.
While competing in three seasons of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, the Hephzibah native and co-owner of Smallcakes had a couple of baking errors that cost him the win. Martin forgot to add pumpkin to his pumpkin cardamom cupcake in the show’s first season and was voted off in a later season after dropping a batch of cupcakes from the oven.
“A lot of people say that’s really sad that you got kicked off,” Martin said. “Well, it’s the best thing that could have happened to us because when we came home, it blew us up.”
Martin and his wife, Brandy, began selling franchises nationwide in 2011. One of his newest shops, at 4460 Washington Road in Liberty Square shopping center in Evans, will have a grand opening Saturday. They opened their first store in 2008 near Kansas City, where they live.
Bringing a cupcakery to his hometown was important to Martin, a 1999 graduate of Hephzibah High School.
“We had a couple of inquiries for Augusta for the first year or so, but we just kept it,” he said. “That was the whole plan. We could have brought it three years ago, but it really wasn’t anything special. Right now, it’s something really special.”
After high school, Martin attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C. From there, he worked as an executive chef in upscale Atlanta restaurants. The Martins moved to Kansas City and not long after, opened their first Smallcakes – named after the nickname of daughter Lily, then 6 months old.
“We didn’t have any money, so my wife took pictures of her eating a cupcake,” Martin said. “Those pictures are still on the walls today, but now she’s 5 so she hates those pictures. It’s really funny.”
He appeared on Cupcake Wars in 2010 just a few months after opening the first store.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” he said. “We flew out to L.A. for a week. It’s a little intimidating. There’s like four cameras in your face, and they give you all of these challenges on the fly. There’s no practicing before you go out there.”
Martin and Smallcakes gained fame after the first season, even though they didn’t come out on top. The cupcakes have been featured on ABC’s The View and in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine.
Smallcakes has grown to 30 shops across the U.S., with 15 more expected to open by year’s end. Smallcakes is set to open in Kuwait City by early 2014, Martin said. About a dozen shops should be open across Georgia by 2014.
“A lot of people are buying these stores across the United States,” Martin said. “We’re selling franchises like crazy, so it was really exciting to hold on to the Augusta territory and open it ourselves.”
The Evans store will be run by Martin’s partner, Lori Pitts, and will employ about 10 people.