NC businesses share what happened after leaving TV spotlight

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2014 

— For the owners of a Morehead City bakery, the hardest part of being on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” was when it was over: They couldn’t talk about their victory until the show aired.

Angela Diaz and her daughter-in-law Kaylee, owners of happy cakes cupcakery, sent in their audition tape in April 2013 and won the mother-and-daughter themed “Cupcake Wars” the following June. Then they had to keep it a secret until October.

“We weren’t even allowed to tell people why we went to LA (Los Angeles),” said Angela Diaz, 41.

The two, who started the business in fall 2012, rode the wave of celebrity that helped them transform their business from an online outlet that delivered about 10 dozen cupcakes a week to a brick-and-mortar location selling up to 1,200 fresh treats a day.

“It was crazy,” Angela Diaz said.

The Diazes are among many entrepreneurs across the state who have participated in reality television opportunities, from ABC’s “Shark Tank” to Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.” Shop Talk caught up with the Diazes and three other businesses that survived their celebrity to find out what happened after their moments in the spotlight.

Kevin Flannery, founder and CEO of WiSpots, was featured in 2009 on the first episode of “Shark Tank,” the show that has entrepreneurs pitch their company to celebrity millionaire and billionaire investors.

Flannery, 48, of Sanford sought $1.2 million for a 10 percent equity stake in his company that seeks to install a system of wireless tablets in high-traffic medical facilities. Patients would use the devices to fill out forms and then could surf the Internet for free while receiving targeted advertisements and coupon offers.

Flannery told the sharks that since founding the company in 2002 he had mortgaged his house twice and tapped out his savings.

The investor panel pleaded with him to cut his losses.

An emotional letdown and hate mail followed, Flannery said.

But there were also thousands of letters that were positive, he said.

After a failed attempt at a merger with a local company, Flannery has since picked up a full-time job managing a telecommunication company’s network buildout in four states. He spends at least 20 hours a week on WiSpots and said he is negotiating deals for funding now.

“I went from being wealthy to having nothing to working my way back,” he said. “This business will take off, and it will be a huge success.”

In October, Matt Richmond of Chapel Hill appeared on “Shark Tank” asking for $150,000 in exchange for 25 percent equity stake of Rent A Goat, a website that connects people who want goats to clear their land with goat owners.

Richmond founded a similar company in 2010. But about a month before he went on “Shark Tank,” he created the new version of the venture and partnered with a California rancher with an established goat business. The sharks didn’t offer to put up any money, though, which would have allowed Rent A Goat to buy goats and set up an operations in San Diego.

The first time the show aired in October, the Rent A Goat website crashed within the first 30 seconds. The website was reinforced when the show re-aired in February.

The opportunity also helped make the referral side of the business viable, Richmond said. Rent A Goat now has about 72,000 Twitter followers, 13 goat-owner affiliates and has given out about 500 referrals this year. The company receives up to 10 percent of each referral transaction.

The company is also selling franchise opportunities.

Guy Wavra said his moment on “Bar Rescue” lived up to the reality television’s show name.

In March 2013, “Bar Rescue” transformed Garner’s Characters Quarters, owned by Wavra and parents Charlie and Helen Alexander, into MoonRunners Saloon.

After opening Character’s in 2010, the concept, which included waitresses dressed as famous characters in edgy outfits, “got stale quick,” said Wavra, 35, of Cary. The business was losing about $3,000 a month, he said.

“Bar Rescue” and its expert and star Jon Taffer walked the owners through a high-profile transition and made a $50,000 investment in a brand and bar makeover to MoonRunners, capitalizing on the area’s Southern roots. In exchange, the family aired its internal struggles, including a rift between Wavra and his sister, a waitress on a loop of being fired and re-hired.

“I don’t have anything negative to say about the process. … It was a little bit embarrassing,” but worth the larger goal of saving the business, Wavra said. “We love hard. We fight hard, no matter what. That is just us.”

When the business reopened as MoonRunners, revenue spiked 30 percent.

After the show aired in August, revenue spiked 100 percent two months in a row.

Now, business is up 40 percent compared to Characters, Wavra said, and on track to bring in $1 million in revenue this year. Owners are working with Broadslab Distillery in Benson to create a MoonRunners line of moonshine and are hoping to open a second location within the next year.

“Bar Rescue is kind of the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.

While happy cakes’ owners awaited the show to air, Angela Diaz reached out to other winners for tips on preparing and brought on another partner, her daughter Amanda Diaz.

They weren’t ready to fund a standalone shop, so they found a commercial kitchen and bought tons of ingredients and boxes. The Monday after the Oct. 19 episode aired, they started selling made-from-scratch cupcakes at 11 a.m. in the corner of a restaurant in downtown Morehead City that was closed for lunch.

“On the weekend, we made 1,000 and sold out in 45 minutes,” Angela Diaz said.

They were working long days, she said, but had fun with it and refused to compromise quality.

“That is what kept us busy and sustained,” she said.

In May, happy cakes moved into its own location where it was selling up to 1,200 cupcakes a day until an elderly woman crashed a vehicle into the business later that month.

Traffic transformed from people looking for cupcakes to people wanting to help.

“It has just been incredible seeing that support system in our town,” she said. “That is a really neat eye opener.”

Diaz said she hopes to reopen before the July 4 weekend.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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