Like craft beer and pickles, it’s impossible to mention cupcakes without triggering a wave of stereotypes: Sex in the City tours lined up outside Magnolia Bakery, sad office parties for an employee you barely know, Sprinkles ATMs on the Upper East Side, and so on. But cliches are made to be broken, and that’s exactly what Carolina Wang and Benny Lina—the masterminds behind EatGoodNYC—have set out to do with their streetwear-inspired spin on the divisive treat.
While the duo’s publicly available cupcakes tend to involve more booze than your average (flavors include strawberry-margarita and Jack Daniels mudslide), their real innovation is the way they market themselves. They specialize in incorporating style and hip-hop influences into custom cupcakes—many of which are homages to people like Black Thought and Cara Delevingne—that are designed to drive chatter on Instagram and Twitter.
Brands often create tailored offerings for “influencers,” hoping to catch their attention and convince them to share them with fans. But what’s unique about EatGoodNYC is both the canvas for the message (there’s something appealingly goofy about cupcakes) and the specific characters involved, who reflect a distinctly downtown New York notion of who and what’s cool—from celebs like A-Trak to Eddie Huang, to brands such as KITH and Hellz Bellz.
We had the chance to chat with Wang and Lina about their cupcake-hustling strategy, their creative process, and more.
On the origins of their personality-driven cupcakes
Lina: I used to throw parties at Fat Buddha, and this rapper named Awkwafina would come in to deejay sometimes. One night, when we knew she was coming deejay, we were like, “Let’s treat her with a cupcake.”
So we went onto Instagram, and we got pictures and everything, and then we did the cupcake. And when she saw it, she totally loved it. She reposted it, and from there we were just like, “We might be on to something!”
On creating a social-media strategy
Lina: We usually try to go and connect with whoever is on that particular cupcake, [often by finding] ways to connect with his or her fans through hashtags or whatever. We try to draw them in, because we figure they might appreciate the cupcake. From there, they might actually want to follow us. That’s usually the strategy.
Wang: When we first started doing this, the timing kind of worked out perfectly for us. We had done a cupcake of Leah [McSweeney] from Married to the MOB, just because we love her work. The day after was actually her birthday, so we were like, “Oh, that’s crazy! Let’s bring you this cupcake on your birthday!” We brought her a whole Married to the MOB set of cupcakes, and that’s kind of how she got involved with us, and we have a relationship now. Overall, we try to schedule [the celebrity cupcakes] with new releases or cool events just to tie it all together.
On nabbing model Cara Delevingne
Wang: Our biggest chance [so far] was getting one to Cara Delevingne. That was a crazy story…
Lina: We made the cupcake, and we put it online. And then she came to our picture, and she actually ‘liked’ the picture [on Instagram]. And from her ‘liking’ the picture, we got like 3,000 ‘likes’ that day.
I tried to contact her, and I found out that she was actually going to be in New York like three days later at this event in the Meatpacking District. So I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to go get that cupcake to you. I don’t know how, but I’m going to get it to you that day.” When she walked out of the store, I was like, “Hey, Cara!” And I put the cupcake up.
She turned around, and she was like, “Oh my god, what the fuck is that?” And she ran back over and asked to take pictures with it. From there, paparazzi started taking pictures, and then the cupcake got into Vogue and some other publications.
Wang: It was actually on The Daily Mail in the UK.
Lina: Yeah, that was pretty big for us.
On choosing subjects
Wang: We’ve kind of been doing a series of people that influence us, and people that are really hot in this culture right now. Mostly big influencers. For us, it’s really about paying attention to all the characteristics of these people that make them who they are…. We try not to do the really, really big artists yet. We want to be able to get to the skill level where we can really do them accurately. We want to make it count. Benny and I are both from New York, and we both have such a passion for the city, so at first we did a lot of people that just really influenced us right here in New York.
On the cupcake-design process
Lina: First, we look at [the subject’s] pictures on Instagram, or we just go online and try to see find the photo that’s most appealing…
Wang: Or if somebody has a signature look. Like, we did Harry Bee, and Harry Bee always has that little smirk that he does, so we knew that the smirk part was really important to him, along with his hair and glasses. Sometimes it’s a hat of a team or something. Like Eddie Huang—we know Eddie is big into the Knicks, so we had to throw a Knicks jersey on him. Something where people could see it, and maybe it doesn’t look exactly like [the person] because it’s fondant and cake, but [it still resonates]. And even if it’s not for the general audience, [the subjects] will appreciate the little details themselves. That’s what we love about what we do. We try to put as many little details that really mean something to somebody on a little, tiny cupcake.
On being persistent
Wang: All these people are very famous and very busy, and I’m sure their social media is crazy. So sometimes if we put a cupcake up and we don’t get the attention of the person, Benny will try to find a way to remarket it. We did that with A-Trak, 40oz, and Eddie Huang. Eddie Huang ‘liked’ [the photo], A-Trak ‘liked’ it, but we really didn’t get a lot out of 40, and A-Trak didn’t repost. So we were like, “Okay, let’s think of another way to do this.” We saw they actually posted up a picture of the three of them together at a party, so we took the [individual] cupcakes and put them together, and we were like, “Full reunion with the crew!” That really caught their attention again, and they all reposted it. They were like, “Man, we can’t get away from these people!”
On meeting through Tinder
Lina: We were actually having a conversation on Tinder, and we were just like, “Oh, hey, what do you like to do? Wait…you like to cook? Do you also like to make cupcakes? Do you also like to bake?” And we were just like, “Wait a minute, what? You like the same things!”
Wang: It was funny, because I was kind of, like, vetting him out. I was sitting there thinking, “Does he really bake?” And then a week later, I went to a birthday party where he had baked cupcakes, and I ate one, and I was like, “Dang…he really bakes. This is crazy!” So we started dating. And some nights, he was just kind of like, “I have this idea for a cupcake,” and then I’d give it my spin, and we realized we could make a really good team together doing this. Benny was very much on the marketing side, and I’m actually a designer. So it was a great partnership. He can think of ways to see something that I don’t see, because I have a very different mindset.
On what’s next
Wang: We’re doing cupcakes for Illy, the coffee brand. Little projects here and there. A lot of the publicity has been ramping up for us, so we’re just hoping to see where everything takes us.
We also want to do more of a DIY kind of thing, to let people see how we do what we do. So we’re definitely hoping to do more videos, but Benny and I are learning as we go. It really is just the beginning for us, but we’re going to bring more of that kind of visual marketing [going forward].
Lina: We might be getting into more clothing, like some hats and shirts we have coming out for the holidays.