food and wineIssue 4

The Cupcake Lady

Cupcake Lady

The Cupcake Lady Proves Success is Sweet in the Food Truck Industry

Only a year in business, and the pink polka-dotted Cupcake Lady truck is already a Stanislaus County monument. On a gorgeously sunny spring afternoon, it luxuriates on the corner of McHenry and Sylvan in Modesto, flanked by blossoming white trees and a never-ending line of animated customers – mothers with toddlers on their hips, tweens giggling as they snap pictures of the iconic, leggy, lipstick-wearing cupcake logo emblazoned on the truck.

Behind the truck’s window, handing out trademark confections like Maple Bacon, a treat that somehow balances the sweet, earthy taste of a maple cupcake with the inch long slice of bacon wedged into its icing, stands The Cupcake Lady herself, Troyce Fraga. The cupcake truck is Troyce’s brainchild, from its focus on mobile food service rather than a brick-and-mortar storefront to the aforementioned leggy logo to the ever-changing adventurous selection of cupcake flavors.

For Troyce, inspiration struck on a trip to New York City. “I was in SOHO and there were 40 people just standing there, and this truck pulls up and it’s full of beautiful cupcakes. All these people knew about it because of social media. So I started thinking: I bake all the time for everybody I know, I could do this.”  

Though her enthusiasm and passion are evident in the sheepish smile she flashes while talking about her business, the publicity part of the job isn’t really Troyce’s thing. She prefers to work behind the scenes.

Cupcake LadyThat’s where her husband, Steve Fraga, the charismatic former labor union head and her gregarious partner in crime, comes in. “She’s humble.  She came up with this great, big wonderful idea and then bakes up a storm with her crew, but she doesn’t like the public limelight.” Luckily for both of them, Steve’s easy grins and background in public relations mean they have that part covered.  

After a year of dutiful research and test recipes, Troyce and Steve purchased an old Mother’s Cookies truck, convinced their marketing-savvy son to design the logo and spent each morning baking 150 cupcakes to sell at stops around Turlock.

The Fragas knew from their research that the food truck industry was poised to explode from a current estimated profit of $650 million nationwide to a whopping $1.7 billion in just five years. Still, they didn’t anticipate how wildly successful their venture would be. Steve, who affectionately refers to himself as the Cupcake Dude, turns an appreciative gaze at the gathering crowd. “We’ve gone through two commercial kitchens and have hit capacity in each one.  Now we’re looking at something even bigger so that we can sustain another truck.”  

Initially, they believed that birthday parties and corporate events would be a cornerstone of their business, but word of mouth and social media marketing has meant the daily truck route is by far their best money-maker. By updating Facebook and Twitter with an up-to-the-hour account of the truck’s daily stops and flavors, the Fragas are able to maintain a close personal relationship with their customers, including their over 15,000 Facebook followers.

The days of carrying 150 cupcakes on the truck are long gone. In February alone, the Cupcake Lady and Dude sold closer to 19,000. Truly, life is sweet in their sector of the mobile food industry. And even when the line stretches through the parking lot, Steve says, the customers don’t complain. “It’s this celebratory thing. Nobody’s unhappy in a cupcake line.”

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