On New Year’s Eve 2013, Lexington’s Brown’s Bakery owner, James Brown, will close the oven doors at his Versailles Road location for the last time. In the bakery’s final days of operation, he is offering seventeen different types of cupcakes, the kind that made him famous, first on Cupcake Wars, and later on Next Great Baker. He began 2013 preparing to undergo brain surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma, and he will end the year by closing the famous bakery with a devoted, but ultimately too small, niche following.
Brown’s Bakery was initially located on West Main near the Meadowthorpe neighborhood, and first opened as a full service bakery. They stayed there almost five years, and he considered closing the business at several points, but ultimately re-conceived it in a new location instead. He said then the amount of time the first shop consumed was not the right fit for their family. But on his trip to California for Cupcake Wars, he was inspired by the number of specialty cupcake shops and wedding cake shops he noticed while in Los Angeles. When he returned to Kentucky, he thought, “maybe if we became more specialized, we could be successful here and it would bring me back to what I wanted to do.”
In 2011, he re-opened at 1226 Versailles Road, focusing on specialty cakes and cupcakes, and business picked up in the aftermath of Cupcake Wars, though he pointed out that even when the press and public visited frequently to see what the TV fuss was about, they didn’t always buy.
He wasn’t yet done with the small screen though. In 2012, he successfully auditioned for a spot on Next Great Baker (a popular Cake Boss spinoff). He only competed for a few episodes, but he sure made an impression. In episode 2, he made the tearful announcement that he wasn’t physically and emotionally up to Season Three’s challenge. On the same day that he found out he was going to be a contestant, a doctor was giving him MRI results: that he had a benign brain tumor, and would need surgery. Cake Boss Buddy Velastro and the rest of the cast wished him well, and he returned to Lexington, where he underwent surgery on January 10, 2013 (UK doctors were able to remove about 85 percent of the tumor). The day before the surgery, fellow Next Great Baker competitor Letty Alvarez reported that her crowdfunding campaign to help Brown keep the bakery open had made its goal of $4,000.
He later underwent a gamma knife procedure to stall the growth of the tumor, and he occasionally jokes about the deafness in his right ear, “[it] sometimes serves me well when my wife or kids are asking me something, although I think the wife is onto that trick.”
Despite the popularity he gained on TV, Brown has been candid in characterizing the bakery as “struggling” throughout, and quietly made the decision to close a few months back. Earlier in December, he broke the news to customers on Facebook, “we will be closing at the end of the year! Time to start my new adventure! So don’t just hit the like button, you better come in.”
He says the only tears he’ll shed are “tears of joy,” and that he is “really excited about what’s next,” though he hasn’t yet disclosed to fans what that will be.
He’s still making blueberry pancakes for his wife and kids these days, but the public only has a few days left to enjoy the benefits of his pastry prowess.
Brown isn’t the only Next Great Baker contestant to close his doors, post-show. Season Three runner-up Gretel Ann closed Cupp’s Cafe and Bakery in March of this year. (Gretel-Ann made it as far as the Vegas finale of the TLC baking competition, which aired on February 12, 2013, but was beaten by Louisville baker Ashley Holt in the final round.)
In 2011, James Brown answered the ultimate question for Ace readers: “Do they really make 1,000 cupcakes on Cupcake Wars?”