The cupcake is a remarkable thing. It is, in the ways that matter most, a flawless invention, a treat for both body and mind. Elegant in its simplicity, yet playful, a sentimental nod to birthdays past. And cute—so delightfully, deliciously cute.
Around town, the cupcake has had a renaissance, lining up in bakery cases like pearls on a strand. People buy them with abandon, gleeful, embracing the frosting on their noses and little change back from a 10. It is okay. It is a cupcake. It is the way it should be.
Until, it isn’t.
Early last year, two men in Dallas decided that they, too, would join the parade of bakers who now specialize in cupcakes. They had a plan to open one, and then a string of shops, fast, calling them Dimples, like the thing your face does when it grins. The problem, though, for Chad Sorrells and his business and life partner, Bryan Owens—who are, by the way, not bakers—is that few people are smiling. In fact, a lot of people would like to see them iced. In court, no sprinkles on top.
It wouldn’t be the first time the pair has been on the wrong side of legal proceedings. Before expanding into cupcakes, Owens ran a company called On Site Property Management. At least three suits were filed by various plaintiffs, claiming that the men stole money. Several judgments were awarded to plaintiffs, according to court records. Casi Fricks is among the fresh batch of plaintiffs brought on by their cupcake foray.
“I represented him as a broker for nearly five months,” says Fricks, who was in charge of office and retail leasing at Frisco Square, the site of Dimples’ first location. They now have three stores. “He cut me out of deals and never paid me. I’m owed $20,000.”
Worse, Fricks convinced her husband, a contractor, to do the build-out on the Frisco shop. He thought the job would lead to a lucrative business relationship with the Dimplers, knowing they intended to franchise. “It was a hurry-up deal. We had to get a month’s worth of work done in two weeks,” says Scott Fricks. “I always get money up front, but I thought, I’ll do this at a discount to help them out. I did it for my wife.”
Fricks paid out of pocket for supplies, pulled all the permits, and had his crew working around the clock. “I was pretty shocked,” he says, “when they offered one of my guys some kind of amphetamines when he was working through the night.”
Fricks never got paid for his services and currently has a builder’s lien against Frisco Square, thinking he has a better chance of getting reimbursed by the mall. “[Sorrells and Owens] scare a lot of people, make a lot of threats. My sense is, they size you up from the start. If there’s an opening, they’re going to take it and run. That’s just what they do, prey upon people.”
While Fricks was painting the last stroke of pink in Frisco, an unassuming baker in McKinney agreed to be the chief pastry chef for the darling little cupcake company, receiving a written statement outlining her salary and responsibilities. For five months, she developed recipes, creating original formulations in her house for her new employers, even working at several events under the Dimples name.
“They promised, in writing, that when their first store opened up, I would be paid and get a bonus,” says the baker, who prefers to remain anonymous. “They even wanted me to find an assistant. Thank goodness I didn’t make someone quit his job for this.” The chief pastry chef was never paid, not once in five months. According to their agreement, she is owed $7,500.
Before the Frisco store launched in December 2009, it seemed the Dimplers sharpened their spatulas out in Tyler, quickly opening and closing a storefront operation. “We installed a coffee maker out there,” says Jerry Itzig, co-owner of the 28-year-old Globex America. “But when they didn’t pay us, my wife and I drove to Tyler to pick up the machine and saw they had shut down and taken everything with them, including our $2,000 piece of equipment.”
Itzig took the Dimplers to small claims court. When they didn’t show, he received a default judgment and then a writ of execution, enabling a sheriff to go to a current location and seize the cash owed. Thus far, no cash.
Meanwhile, the batter thickened back in Dallas, where the Dimplers had rented a zippy apartment with lovely views, plenty of room, and a state-of-the-art kitchen. The Frisco bakery, by the way, did not have an oven when it opened. Usually bakeries have ovens, since bakers usually bake in bakeries. But the Dimplers do things differently it seems.
Example: it is the fall of 2009. While the Frisco operation is gearing up, the company operates a cupcake catering business out of a van. Two months pass and no rent is paid on the zippy apartment with the state-of-the-art kitchen. It is a corporate lease, made out in the business’s name. The leasing company begins the eviction process. After three or four months, the Dimplers are told to leave the apartment, which they do, without cleaning up after themselves. When the building manager goes inside, he sees that his former tenants have been very industrious in the state-of-the-art kitchen.
“It was kind of interesting,” says the manager, who would rather his company not be named. “They left a bunch of Walmart receipts for Betty Crocker cake mix, a whole bunch of them in a box. And each one had the boxes itemized: Betty Crocker, Betty Crocker, Betty Crocker.” The cupcakes sell for $4 each.
The owners of the apartment building have filed a lawsuit in the amount of the outstanding rent due, as well as clean-up costs.
These days, life looks pretty cupcake-y inside two of the three bakeries. The Frisco store brings in about $94,000 a month, according to Fricks’ source in the Frisco Square leasing department. That is a lot of cupcakes. It is not clear how much of this income is derived from catering, but it appears that there is now an oven on the premises. The 6-month-old McKinney Avenue location in Uptown seems less busy.
“How many employees do you have?” manager Marie Ballinger is asked.
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“How much square footage do you have?”
“I have no idea.”
“And how many cupcakes do you sell a day?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
Marie Ballinger is a friend of Chad Sorrells’ grandmother. She does not give anyone his phone number or e-mail address. “It is hard to get ahold of him,” Ballinger says. “He just works so much because he is just brilliant. I met him when he was a kid. And he made up the red velvet recipe himself.”
The Dimplers agreed to an interview but never arrived at the appointed time and place. A cupcake seller behind the Uptown counter said he couldn’t say if he had gotten paid or not, and disappeared through a swinging door.
Over at one of the newest Dimples stores, in One Arts Plaza, which had five customers by 3 o’clock on a recent Saturday, the cupcake seller said that she had some “complications” with her paycheck.
Meanwhile, unsuspecting sweet tooths continue to purchase the goods, nefariously conceived though they may be. They carry them off in plastic containers, like innocents in a kidnapping. As brazen as the reported stealing from employees and vendors is the theft of simple pleasure, of nostalgia. How dare the Dimplers plunder that feeling. What is next? Baby blankets?
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org .