How a Baker and Gov. Baker Came to Be a Team
It all started innocently enough, during Massachusetts Day at the Big E in 2014. Charlie Baker, then candidate for governor, took a bite of one of Dino Facente’s Boston creme cupcakes, and a spark was lit. Over the ensuing 17 months, candidate and then Gov. Baker would become a highly visible and unpaid spokesperson for Facente’s Koffee Kup Bakery, and the business would become a good-luck charm for the New England Patriots — yes, even after that loss to the Broncos.
Dino Facente knows full well that politics and commerce generally don’t mix, and that it’s never a good idea for a business owner to wear his or her preference for a party, candidate, or elected official on their sleeve.
But in this case, he knew he had to make an exception — and he did.
It comes in many forms, but perhaps most notably the ‘Baker/Polito’ campaign sign that is impossible to miss as one enters his establishment in the Springfield Plaza, Koffee Kup Bakery.
It’s there for a reason — actually, several of them.
In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration, in any way, shape, or form, to say that no governor of the Commonwealth has done more for any small business — at least one in the 413 area code, or from a marketing perspective — than Charlie Baker has for Koffee Kup.
It all started in the Massachusetts Building at the Big E in late September 2014, when then-candidate Baker first took a bite of one of Facente’s Boston creme cupcakes — and new chapters to the story have been added almost monthly, it seems.
Indeed, until Baker came along, the Boston creme cupcake was just another item on a vast menu of options offered at Koffee Kup, which is perhaps best-known for its birthday cakes — it makes roughly 300 of them a week. Now? Well, it’s a bestseller that has gained celebrity status thanks to Baker — underneath ‘Koffee Kup Bakery’ on Facente’s business card, it reads ‘Home to the Governor’s Cupcake.’
And it will soon be named the state’s ‘official cupcake’ — that is, if state Rep. Angelo Puppolo, D-Springfield, can succeed in getting legislation he has filed to that effect through both houses.
It’s already been quite a year and a half for the Boston creme cupcake. And Facente. And Baker. And the New England Patriots, for that matter. The governor held up one of the items at the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Outlook luncheon roughly a year ago. There was also the governor’s inaugural, for which Facente baked 500 Boston cremes. And when the governor was out in Springfield with his cabinet several weeks ago, Boston creme cupcakes were on the menu.Then, of course, there are Baker’s sports bets, which have put Koffee Kup on the map — and the 5 o’clock news — perhaps more than anything else.
Before the recent AFC championship game between the Patriots and Broncos, Baker was five for five when he wagered Facente’s Boston cremes in bets with various governors — four involving the Pats and one on Boston University in the 2015 Frozen Four hockey finals.
And although the Pats lost the game against Denver, the mystique of Facente’s cupcakes only grew, because, to make a long story short, Baker never got a bet down on that game because he couldn’t connect with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“We’re still undefeated,” said Facente, referring to his cupcakes, not the football team, obviously. “We’ve become a good-luck charm for the team and the governor.”
And Baker has brought some good luck to Koffee Kup. While not hidden in the Springfield Plaza, the business has generally had limited visibility from a marketing perspective, relying through the decades almost entirely, and effectively, on word of mouth.
The governor has changed all that, becoming an unofficial, highly visible — and unpaid — spokesperson.
Facente (whose e-mail address is [email protected]) thought about trying to quantify the impact of Baker’s involvement with his venture, but then decided that really wasn’t doable, so he qualified instead.
“It’s definitely had an impact — when he mentions us, people come in; they want to see what all the buzz is about,” said Facente, who will soon undertake a major renovation of the business. “What can I say — he’s put us on the map.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Facente about his corner-office pitch person, how this relationship came about, and how these two have become great fans of each other.
When You Yeast Expect It
As he talked with BusinessWest on the Thursday before the AFC title clash — because he was expecting a crush of media on Friday, when a bet with Colorado’s governor was due to be announced — Facente paused often to find and then show off photos on his phone.
Collectively — and the portfolio keeps growing, to say the least — they speak to how this relationship with the governor has evolved over the past year and a half.
There are several shots of Facente with Baker, including a frequently used photo of the two with a tray of Boston cremes. But there are many others of Facente with various members of the Baker administration, other State House officials, and former Gov. Bill Weld.
There’s even a shot of the cake Facente baked for the governor on the occasion of his 59th birthday last November, one that features a reproduction of a photo of Baker’s family.
This is not the kind of electronic photo album most small-business owners can summon, and it’s not a collection Facente could have imagined when the hard-to-miss, six-foot, six-inch Baker walked into the Massachusetts Building during the 2014 Big E.
Indeed, meeting governors and candidates for that office and many others was nothing new for this business owner. He said he’s lost track of how many he’s met since he first set up shop on the Avenue of States nearly a dozen years ago.
“On Massachusetts Day, a lot of politicians pass though there,” he noted. “I’ve met people running for all kinds of different offices.”
Most of them took a passing interest in his business — and especially his wares, as Baker did, taking some of the Boston creme cupcakes home with him — but most all of those encounters turned out to be one-and-dones.
Not so with Baker.
To explain, Facente recalled a phone call he received on a Saturday morning a few weeks after that initial encounter. It was from Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke, a Democrat who nonetheless became a strong supporter of Baker and his unofficial go-to person in this region.
“He said, ‘Dino, do you know Charlie Baker?’” Facente recalled, adding that he correctly identified him as ‘that guy running for governor.’ “He told me, ‘you’re not going to believe this, but he’s been craving that Boston creme cupcake and he wants to come to your bakery.’”
Indeed, Baker was planning to attend his son’s college football game in New York, and wanted to swing through Springfield on his way and pick up some cupcakes.Word of his intentions leaked out, as they often do during election season, and this pass-through became a media event and gathering of Republican leaders.
“The next thing you know, the bakery is packed with people,” Facente recalled, adding that, while he was grateful for the exposure, he was also impressed with the candidate for following up on an informal pledge to return to Western Mass.
“I told him, ‘a lot of politicians pass through the Big E, but you said you were going to come by, and you kept your word,’” Facente said. “Most of those candidates make similar promises, but they never honor them; he’s probably the only one, and I’ve been here 22 years.
“So we took a liking to each other, and he took some cupcakes to go,” he went on, adding that the candidate actually gave him some money to help pay for the wedding cake of a young couple he met at the shop that day.
Just before leaving, Baker vowed to feature the Boston cremes at his inauguration if he was elected. It was another pledge he would make good on.
All that was enough to prompt Facente to ask for a campaign sign for his window, something he’d never done before.
“Being in business, you just don’t do stuff like that,” he explained. “But I really took a liking to the guy and wanted to support him.”
The feeling, of course, was mutual, and, as things turned out, the inauguration — for which Facente, the only Western Mass.-based baker to be invited to take part, provided 500 Boston cremes — was only part of what would turn out to be a memorable start to 2015 for Facente and his bakery.
Indeed, as the Patriots rolled to the Super Bowl, Koffee Kup cupcakes were the then-governor’s wager of choice. It started with the divisional-round win against Baltimore, and Baker stayed with the company through the Championship Game beatdown of Indianapolis and the Super Bowl win over Seattle.
Soon, that fledgling tradition, which continued last month with the Pats’ divisional-round win over Kansas City, gave the business a new identity, especially in the central and eastern parts of the state: specifically, ‘that bakery out in Springfield that makes the cupcakes the governor bets in the Patriots games.’
Meanwhile, the chamber’s annual Outlook 2015 luncheon was another coup. The governor was the keynote speaker, and he got things rolling by referencing the cupcake, his fondness for it, its role in bringing a fourth Lombardi trophy to Foxboro, and how the business exemplifies the depth and resilience of the state’s core of small businesses.
More than 800 attendees took in this testimonial, and some took the opportunity to congratulate Facente on his marketing good fortune.
“People were texting me saying, ‘how much are you paying this guy?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not giving him a penny; he just took a liking to me.’”
Over the course of the year, there were more opportunities for both parties to build on the relationship, from holiday-lighting ceremonies at the State House (Baker invited Facente to attend) to the governor’s birthday cake, to the Kansas City game a few weeks ago.
So what does it mean to have the governor as a spokesperson?
It has certainly meant additional and much-appreciated exposure — even if it’s in the form of ‘that bakery in Springfield’ — for the Koffee Kup, which was one of the original anchor tenants when the Springfield Plaza, built on the site of an old airport, opened in 1954.
Retail outlets and other ventures, including a few different movie-theater operators, have come and gone, but Koffee Kup remains. Facente and two of his uncles (since bought out) acquired the business in the early ’90s. The venture eventually expanded into Holyoke and West Springfield, but those locations have since been sold.
Overall, the business has been solid on both the retail and wholesale sides — the company provides products to a number of smaller outlets, he said, again referencing those birthday cakes, as well as a number of dates on the calendar that provide surges in business. Those include Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day (he’s known in some circles as ‘the Italian doing all the Irish bread’), graduations, the Big E, Halloween, and other holidays.
“Being an American baker, I don’t have to specialize in one thing,” he explained, adding that this diversity has certainly been an asset.
As has the governor’s support, especially the bets on Patriots games, which twice now have helped the company through January, one of the few slower periods of the year.
“Last year, when the governor mentioned it, Saturday and Sunday sales were booming,” he recalled, noting that the bets were generally placed toward end of the week. “Everyone wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It happens every time he does it.”
Some Local Flavor
Baker could not be reached for this story, but Facente said the governor has told him that, if the bill designating the Koffee Kup Boston creme as the state’s official cupcake reaches his desk, he’ll sign it.
That will be the latest, and perhaps the most significant, form of support the Bay State’s corner office holder has provided for this business owner.
Facente, as he did with other such inquiries, preferred not to speculate specifically on what that means for this six-decade landmark. Instead, he chose to focus on the significance of such an action to small businesses — and also Western Mass.
“I think it’s important to recognize the small guy, and this would do that,” he explained. “It would also show that the governor’s committed to the whole state, not just Eastern Mass.; putting me on the map like that would be huge.”
Suffice it to say, if it does become reality, it will certainly be something Facente has been specializing in throughout his career — icing on the cake.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]