One of the reasons I started my website, MarloThomas.com, was to have a place for women to come together and dream. Women should know that they don't have to hold on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing them -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about three women, complete strangers in high school, who came together to plan their high school reunion and ended up starting a sweet, little business.
By Lori Weiss
Put a room full of girls from high school together, even 25 years after graduation, and you can pretty much predict what will happen. The popular girls will be off giggling in a corner, while the others -- who never quite fit -- will quietly keep to themselves. Some things never change -- ask anyone who’s ever tried to plan a reunion.
Unless, of course, you add a few cocktails -- and then there's a chance that maybe, just maybe, you'll end up with unexpected friendships that will last a lifetime.
And thus begins the story of Reyne Hirsch, the girl who wore her hair in a multi-colored Mohawk; Bea Gutierrez, whose family immigrated from Cuba; and Debra Hoyt, the vibrant teenager who appeared to have everything.
"You couldn’t be at Stratford High School and not know Debra," Bea laughed. "She was the star of all the musicals; the one dating the hot guy on the football team."
"You know," added Reyne, teasing, "one of those girls you wanted to hate!"
"They’re right," Debra said with a wink, her arms around the girls who today are her best friends. "I was more popular than both of them!"
So what brought these three girls together -- beyond being talked into planning a reunion? Something simple and sweet that reminded them of their childhoods: cupcakes. Or, more to the point, the desire to bake lots and lots of cupcakes.
"A group of us were sitting around while we were planning the reunion," Reyne recalled, "and after a few drinks the conversation shifted to real life, and someone asked, 'What would you be doing if you weren't doing what you're doing today?'"
Bea, now married with two children, always dreamed of opening a bake shop.
"In Cuba, we didn't have much, but the sugar cane grew wild," she said, "and my dad always made sure we had some sort of sweet treat around the house. To this day, if I go to a restaurant, I'll order a salad and tell them to leave off the croutons and cheese, so I can order dessert."
Debra, who ended up marrying that hunky high school football player and having three children with him, was spending her days shuttling kids, but using every free moment to refine her famous cheesecake recipes.
"My husband would come home and there would be no dinner," she laughed, "but I'd always have baked goods!"
And Reyne, a celebrated antique appraiser and television personality, who now travels the world looking for priceless objects, couldn't wait for the day when she could open a cupcake bakery -– a quaint gathering place with nostalgic décor and luscious little cakes displayed on vintage stands.
"Just like antiques," Reyne said, "cupcakes take you back to a safe time in your life. Opening a shop was something I'd wanted to pursue for years, but my ex-husband kept telling me it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard."
But Reyne had left that doubting husband behind in Ohio, moving back home to Houston, Texas. And now suddenly with two new friends to share the workload, the idea was sounding not only appealing, but completely possible.
"We began getting together at Debra's house and experimenting with recipes," Bea remembered. "Debra and Reyne had their favorites, and I love to decorate with fondants and icings. I always want people to know immediately what they're about to bite into. You don't want someone licking all the cupcakes to see if they're getting Brownie Explosion or Blueberries and Cream!"
“There were already six cupcake bakeries in the Houston area,” Reyne explained, “so we had to do something bigger and better.”
"But we weren't in any position to take out loans," Debra added.
So they did what any other three women with a whole lot of Facebook friends from high school would do. They started spreading the word on social media -- promoting their product and offering free delivery with the purchase of every dozen. Within 20 days, they had sold 800 cupcakes. Suddenly, their delicious dream was becoming a very grown-up business.
With their website up and running -- and their company name, Icing, in place -- the women began baking individually in three commercial kitchens throughout suburban Houston, so they could each remain close to home. But as business began to pick up, they quickly realized that they needed a place to call their own.
And they found one -- in Old Town Katy, a charming shopping district filled with antique stores and restaurants.
"There are nights that we work until midnight, so I just sleep at Debra's," Bea said. "That way, we can turn around and do it all again in a few hours."
"But we always have fun!" Debra added. "The music is playing and if you peek in our window at just the right moment, there's a good chance you’ll catch us all dancing!
"One night after a 12-hour day," Debra continued, "we put an apron on the floor, as a tablecloth, and sat down for dinner."
"Then the tequila came out," Reyne said with a grin, "But then suddenly we had a thought: 'What if we took this tequila and put it in the batter?'"
Almost instantly, a new item was added to Icing’s menu: "Over 21" cupcakes -- which come in flavors such as Margarita, Mojito, and Strawberry Daiquiri (and which the ladies sell only after checking a customer's driver's license).
"I was making a batch of White Russian cupcakes for a friend," Bea said, "and I hadn’t had breakfast. The icing had Kahlua and vodka in it, and there was a little left over, so I had a spoonful. Suddenly, I felt just a little bit happier! One won’t get you drunk, but after a few, you might feel a little tipsy!"
After the success of their liquor-spiked cupcake experiment, the ladies began seeing inspiration everywhere. On one occasion, Reyne posted a picture of herself on Facebook enjoying a bowl of Cap'n Crunch -- and when Debra saw the photo, she ran with the idea. Within weeks, Cap'n Crunch cupcakes became one of Icing’s best sellers.
Today, Icing cupcakes are in high demand, not just by the dozen, but in massive quantities for special events that require the ladies to bring in custom-made cupcake bars and towers to hold them. Meanwhile, Icing has also developed a special new line for its customer’s furry friends called -- you guessed it -- "Pupcakes".
Throughout it all, the three women remain firmly committed to their friendship -- bonded by their love of cupcakes and a little bit of everyday mischief.
"Debra joined me on a business trip in Miami and we decided to get cupcake tattoos," Reyne laughed. "Mine is on my butt. Let's just say it's a message to my ex-husband, who thought this would never work. He can just kiss my cupcake!"
"This has been an amazing journey," she continued. "Whether it works or it doesn't, we've already succeeded just because we tried. You have a lot more to lose if you reach 60 and say, 'I wish I had done that.'"
"And the same thing goes for friendships," Debra added. "Had we not been on that planning committee together, we probably wouldn't have even spoken to each other at the reunion. But we were thrown together by fate, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us."
"That’s right," Bea said softly. "And now we can't imagine our lives without each other."
Icing Cupcakes deliver throughout the Houston area and their cupcake jars are available for delivery nationwide. For more information, visit icing-cupcakes.com.
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