From Pastry to Politics
- by Susan McDonnell
If Brian Murphy, WG‘08, made one mistake when he launched Smith Island Baking Co. in 2009, it was underestimating its potential success.
“I didn’t know what I was starting,” he laughs. “I thought that, worst case, I’d break even and learn to run a company. My biggest mistake was not believing that the bakery could become a really big company.”
In 2010, Wharton Magazine profiled Murphy and his quest to revitalize a struggling local Maryland economy by opening a bakery. Since that time, the decadent Smith Island Cakes—frosting-rich, multilayered confections that were invented in the small fishing village in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—have soared in demand. Named among the “five American desserts worth the trip” by National Geographic, the cakes are sold in the Neiman Marcus catalog and are served at the Four Seasons and prominent restaurants in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Murphy says the bakery is on track to sell 20,000 cakes this year—shipping to 1,500 cities in seven countries.
But his sights don’t stop there. He is laying the groundwork to make Smith Island Baking a major national gift company—as recognizable a brand as Harry & David. He says this level of success won’t just affect Smith Island; rather, it represents the type of growth America needs to boost its economy overall.
“We need more people from Wharton in the field running small companies and turning them into big companies,” he emphasizes. “That’s where the growth in our economy comes from.”
In 2010, Murphy decided he wanted to put his views and his business knowledge to action to help re-energize the entire state and ran for governor.
“Career politicians have never delivered a cake, never run a hardware store, have no understanding of finance,” says Murphy. “Running a state is like running an organization. You have to be a good steward of money. You have to manage people. Ultimately, I’d be well suited to run an organization like the state of Maryland.”
While he received a respectable number of votes, Murphy didn’t have enough support to get elected. He did, however, get his feet wet in the political arena and is not closed to the possibility of running for office again. In the meantime, he remains in the public eye through radio, newspaper commentaries and contributing opinion pieces to online publications. He also embarked on what he describes one of his most difficult challenges to date: standup comedy. In 2011, he was runner-up in DC’s Funniest Celebrity Contest.
One obvious question remains: Is Brian Murphy having his cakes and eating them too?
“We get a cake about once a week,” he says. “My kids think it’s normal to have cake for breakfast.”