By James Cullum (Photo/James Cullum)
Adnan Hamidi has sold millions of Alexandria Cupcakes over the past seven years, and he’s just getting started. His cupcake shop at 1022 King St. will soon be joined by sister locations throughout Virginia and beyond.
“This 600-square-foot location is going to go international one day,” Hamidi said. “I am currently actively negotiating for new locations as we speak. One is in Northern Virginia, and the other one is in Virginia, but a little bit south.
“We’re really hoping that 2017 brings us two or three new locations, and after that we’re also looking at locations in Germany and Belgium.”
Hamidi touts the success of his still-young bakery to the 27 flavors — from standards like vanilla bean and peanut butter to novel concoctions like Guinness Stout chocolate cake with Bailey’s frosting — being made with high-fat European butter, organic eggs, pure cane sugar and milk from a local creamery.
“Our cupcakes are fattening, but you are consuming good fat,” Hamidi said with a laugh. “Seriously! When it comes to calories, it helps sustain your metabolic system. Fat is also extremely necessary for your brain function.”
In addition to Hamidi’s duties at his shop, he serves on the board of directors of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, recently won the chamber’s small business of the year award and donates cupcakes to dozens of organizations, including Christ House, The Campagna Center and Volunteer Alexandria. He said it’s important to give back to the city that helped him succeed.
“Tourists come and go, but the majority of our business comes from Alexandrians,” he said. “The hand that feeds you must be taken care of. The community feeds us and ensures that we stay afloat.”
But Hamidi’s road began far from the bakery. He was born in Pakistan and moved to the U.S. when he was 12. He grew up in northern California, briefly served as a police officer and moved to Northern Virginia in 1993 to study sociology and pre-law at George Mason University.
Intent on becoming an attorney, he worked as a paralegal or the Prince William County Attorney’s Office, and after the birth of his son Josh and later a divorce, he reinvented himself by becoming a successful kitchen and bathroom designer.
“Everybody has their why — why they do what they do. For me, when I was going through my divorce, I was fighting for my child’s custody. Between the legal fees and all of that fiasco, I was scraping my ashtray for loose change,” he said, wiping away tears. “I will never go through that again. Never. It was horrible. And that’s a tough thing for me to say.
“That’s my why. That’s why I hustle day in and day out. I’ve scraped the bottom. I was days shy of being homeless because I chose to fight for my son.”
Hamidi, now 45 and married since 2013 to his longtime girlfriend Kathy, was working as an interior designer in Georgetown when the inspiration for Alexandria Cupcake took hold.
“I wanted a [food] business without the hassles associated with a restaurant, and settled on desserts,” he said. “And my wife and I were talking about how to do this, and we narrowed it down to cupcakes. No sooner had we made that decision that Georgetown Cupcake opened up. My wife and I knew we were on the right track. So we opened Alexandria Cupcake in 2010, and it’s been a great ride.”
Alexandria Cupcake has seen annual growth of between 27 percent and 32 percent every year, Hamidi said. His ovens, which are turned on at 5:30 in the morning, bake between 6,500 and 9,000 cupcakes every week. He also pays his employees above the minimum wage.
“There are two factors for a guaranteed recipe for success with our product: the highest quality and the best customer service. It takes discipline to do that,” Hamidi said. “Thank God that we have always stayed in the black. For most startups that’s a difficult thing to do.
“If you have poor service, then a lot of people aren’t going to come back. And then have a mediocre product at $3 to $4 a cupcake? They definitely won’t come back. You have to put the grind in. Be the face of your company and don’t be afraid to toot your horn, because nobody is going to do it for you. Make shame- less plugs for yourself, but be ready to back them up.”
The most important factor to Hamidi’s success is family.
“Without them, this would not be possible,” he said. “My wife and son pitch in, and they support me when I need help. And that’s important, because I want my son to know the business world and how to connect with all types of people.”