Stephanie Cmar and Justin Burke-Samson have big dreams, and they may or may not involve the duo's current string of donut-and-pop-tart pop-ups. They may or may not also involve laundromats, nachos, and/or hot dogs. What began as Cmar's Stacked Donuts concept soon grew to include Burke-Samson's Trademark Tarts, and now the two have an "unofficial official" business called Party of Two that pops up regularly around town. In July, they'll head out on a 10-day tour of the country, holding events in LA, Chicago, New York City, Portland, Maine, and beyond, before coming back home for a "boozy" wrap-up party and eventually something in a more permanent space. Cmar and Burke-Samson chatted with Eater about the origins of their individual businesses and how "two became one." (Cue Spice Girls.)
How did Stacked Donuts and Trademark Tarts come about individually, and then how did you come together to form Party of Two?
Stephanie Cmar: The donuts started when Top Chef season 10 was doing its promos. In my dark place, I still had to go film them even though I knew what happened, and I went to Top Pot Doughnuts, ate a donut, and was like, "Well, that was great." I came back to Stir and started making donuts, and then I became obsessive — I just kept making them and making them and making them and changed the name so that Colin Lynch wouldn't get pissed that I had so many donuts on the menu, and then I found some investors. They were pumped about it.
Everything was looking great. The day the show aired, that dark show, I got an email at 8 o'clock that said that they could no longer invest, so I drank, like, six gallons of wine, cried, my father took me to The Cheesecake Factory the next morning, and I dropped the donuts like a hot potato. I was like, "I don't want to do this anymore." So then life happened, and then I decided I was going to leave No. 9 Park, and they were like, "Why don't you do a donut pop-up?" Even though I had kind of dropped the idea and forgotten about it, whatever. I was like, "Yeah, that sounds good." And it took off, and that was how I ended up making donuts.
Justin Burke-Samson: Different story for me…
SC: Way different! His is, like, responsible. [Laughs.]
JBS: I always worked front-of-house and at a bunch of cafes and bakeries in undergrad, and I was really intrigued with the baking and pastries, so I started going home and replicating what I was eating and smelling and looking at. I'm 100% self-taught, and it just kind of took off as a hobby and then it became a passion. Among my friends, I became that guy that they would ask to bring the cookies or the croissants or whatnot to the parties.
SC: The molasses cookies! I love the molasses cookies.
JBS: Then I kind of always had in the back of my mind that it was something that I wanted to do, but I thought I'd be 40 or 50 and do it, after I had a career in non-profit. And then at the end of last year, my husband and I decided that we would start having kids, or planning to have kids, and then realized how expensive it was. We decided in lieu of a baby shower, we would do a fundraising page and have our family and friends give us money. We had part of the cost saved already, but we needed an extra…
SC: Katrillion dollars…
JBS: And David suggested that as a thank you, I give them baked goods. So we launched that in January. Strangers started giving us money and requesting baked goods, including pop tarts. I am obsessed with taking childhood things and making them better. I'm having fun with it. And Stephanie had some of my molasses cookies. Originally I was going to do cookies with her, but David said that that doesn't make sense and that I should do my pop tarts, because it's a breakfast pastry. So then I did one pop-up with Stephanie at Commonwealth…
SC: No, first we did a three-glass-of-wine lunch. We've been acquaintances for years, because they have two puppies, and I like the puppies. They would walk them, and I'd run out of the building to see them. We never hung out; we didn't really know each other — I knew his name, but he was "Wrigley's dad." And so something happened, and I was like, "Let's get lunch." Three glasses of wine later, I was like, "We have big ideas!" We were going to conquer the world and everything.
JBS: Apparently we are. [Laughs.]
SC: Apparently we are. So it was like, "Why don't you just come and help me, and we can do all this, and you can hang out, and you can sell your pop tarts. You can make a little extra money. This is going to be great. And then we can open up six stores, we'll be in the airports, it's gonna be nationwide. It's gonna be awesome." And it was perfect. Wasn't it?
JBS: Yes. It's perfect. And it's crazy.
SC: And now we spend a lot of time together from never knowing each other.
JBS: We're like fast besties.
SC: Fast besties!
JBS: So just naturally...two became one. [Both begin singing.]
SC: Like the Spice Girls. [Laughs.] Two is better than one in certain things. It was really fun by myself, but it's so much more fun to have somebody to be like, "Well, that was crazy." And his pop tarts are so awesome that there's never been a question of quality or a question of anything. It was just like, "You're really good at this, I'm really good at that, let's just see how many people show up, and let's pray we make money."
JBS: It's really kicked me into…
SC: Where's-my-life-going mode?
JBS: ...changing my perspective on my life.
SC: We do a lot of life talks. Lot of therapy sessions. I also walk their dogs part-time. I haven't been very good at it.
JBS: That's alright; we'll talk about that later. [Laughs.] So that happened, and now we're in business.
SC: We are an unofficial official business.
Where did the name Party of Two come from?
SC: That came from a lot of mistakes and errors. We were trying to figure out a way to incorporate two...becoming one. [Laughs.] We wanted to do that, and we were all up in the thesaurus…
JBS: Oh, it was awful.
SC: We were Googling stuff…
JBS: We didn't want something that was going to trap us into baking, because we also have some other cool ideas.
SC: I like making sandwiches, and I want to own a laundromat.
JBS: I love nachos.
SC: I love nachos. And hot dogs!
JBS: Definitely taking the simple things…
SC: A little spastic fun.
JBS: We went everywhere from…
SC: ...that racist name? We picked a racist name. We didn't know it was racist. Then my brother was like, "Halt."
JBS: We kept going back to "Duo," but that seemed too fancy…
SC: It seemed kind of cheesy.
JBS: Then we started getting into a play on baking and a play on more of the savory side, so it was like "Proof and Bake" or "Fry and Paddle" or something...it was weird. I set us a deadline to have the press release out on a Tuesday, and it was Tuesday morning, and I texted Stephanie, "We've gotta come up with something." I don't want to be like every other restaurant group that has group in their name.
SC: "Justin and Stephanie Group." [Laughs.] Sounds awful.
JBS: So I Googled the word "group" to see other ideas, and "party" came up, and in my head I was like, "Party of Two." Mind blown. I texted Stephanie.
SC: I was like, "Perfect!" We're like a private party, me and you.
JBS: We bring the fun!
SC: We do bring the fun. And the debauchery. Great life decisions.
What do you remember about the very first pop-up? You weren't there yet, Justin, right?
JBS: I wasn't part of the first three — well, I was there at the first one! I live above B&G Oysters.
SC: The first pop-up was a shitshow. I had no idea what to expect. Nothing was going right. Boston Magazine was there, taking pictures. It was chaos. I had no idea what was going on, because we had to fry at B&G and run back over to The Butcher Shop. Nothing went wrong, but to see where we are now, it's been such an evolution. My brother put it best. He was like, "Stephanie, we were so busy, there was no time to cry." And it was true. It wasn't everything that it could have been, but I guess that's the point of a pop-up — to see faults and grow from them. I just remember being like, "What am I doing right now?"
JBS: I can give you the customer perspective. I live above B&G, so I have a window that looks right into The Butcher Shop, because I'm a creeper. [Laughs.] I knew she was there, and I was rooting for her, so I was watching the line, and literally like 30 minutes before nine, there was no line, and then there was a line. I was like, "Crap, I gotta get down there."
SC: And I had no idea there was a line.
JBS: I quickly ran down there, and Boston Magazine was there and took a lot of photographs of me — I'm, like, the number one customer. So much so that I joined the business! It was just crazy because people were excited, but also people were walking by, and they were like, "Why is this huge line outside The Butcher Shop at 9 a.m.?" It was controlled chaos. People wanted the donuts, and they wanted to meet Stephanie.
SC: I was holding donuts and trying to smile and not cry.
JBS: It was good. The customer perspective saw nothing wrong. Each week it got bigger, and the line started forming earlier, and people started talking more about it.
SC: Yeah, there was a lot of press that went out at the beginning, and I didn't do anything. I didn't contact anybody. I wasn't even good about my social media. My social media has improved vastly since then. A lot of selfies.
JBS: Good job.
SC: So it was cool. I'm much happier in the place we are now than I was then.
What are some specific things that have changed since that first one?
SC: The recipe. [Laughs.] The recipe has changed dramatically.
JBS: Each week they get better.
SC: And having Justin there is way more fun. That's part of my thing. Being so serious in restaurants for so long, so serious — I don't want to go back to that right now. Maybe I will after we create our empire and open up a restaurant-restaurant, but I don't want to do that now, and I just laugh the entire time.
JBS: It's usually like, "Can I do this?" and the answer is "Why not?" "Can I use a whole bottle of tequila in these boozy donuts and pop tarts? Yes I can!" And we have a good team.
SC: We bring friends. Justin's husband helps, and my boyfriend has helped. We have since decided that for the health of our relationship, maybe that's not a good idea…
JBS: I think what's been amazing is the investment from our friends and family, who want to see us succeed.
SC: Oh my God, my mother.
JBS: She's often mistaken as the owner of the restaurant that we're at.
SC: People thought she was Nookie [at Commonwealth]. She comes five minutes before, looks intently through the line, and then charges right through, splitting it like the Red Sea, and she posts up and reminds everybody to use their manners. If you don't say "I hope you have a nice day," she'll come whisper in your ear that you've done something wrong. She was a flight attendant.
JBS: Everyone just wants to see us succeed.
SC: Justin's friends are so supportive. And Kristen [Kish], my BFF, comes. On Monday night we were in the shits. We were, like, late to our own party, is how we put it, and Kristen comes in with our friend Naomi, and I'm like, "Booboo, you gotta finish frying these," and I left Kristen in the kitchen.
JBS: So it's my husband and Kristen frying donuts, and I just look back, and I'm like, "Never saw that coming."
Do you have a clear vision of what you want from a permanent space?
SC: My newest one is I want to do a laundromat/bakery…
JBS: We're gonna talk about that… [Laughs.]
SC: Wouldn't that be awesome?
JBS: I mean, I love laundry, but that's a little too much laundry.
SC: In Australia, they do bars at the laundromat. That's where I got the idea!
JBS: Let's go to Australia! We need to do research.
SC: I don't think we have it quite figured out. We know we want to do something awesome. And we know we want to have it be a physical place. I don't know if we want it to be a brick-and-mortar or a food truck, because right now the beauty of the pop-ups is we're always excited, and we're always on our tippy-toes, troubleshooting…
JBS: We have goals set for ourselves. We have the tour, and we have a goal for the end of summer, and then we kind of have another goal for fall, early winter.
SC: And we're pretty good at achieving those goals. It's just we seem to wait until the very last second to conquer.
JBS: We're trying to get more organized, but everything's happening so fast. The public wants us to have something, and we would be foolish to not do that. We just want to make sure that it's right, that it fits our mentality and what we want and what we see, and I think the more we do pop-ups and go to different restaurants, we see what we want. Our motto is, don't take it too seriously.
SC: If you take a donut so seriously, or a pop tart so seriously…
JBS: You're not going to enjoy it.
SC: It's like an over-complicated sandwich. It never tastes as good as the original.
JBS: We see something in the future…
SC: And we see it being awesome…
JBS: We just have a few things we have to get through first to get there.
How is the tour going to work?
SC: We're going to go around. We're going to go to California.
JBS: I'm from California originally, so we're going to start in LA, and we'll make a pit-stop in my hometown, which is a small town, so they're already jazzed about it. And I live really close to Vegas, so we'll drive over to Vegas, and then from there…
SC: I want to go to Chicago. We want to go to New York, which will be easy, and do a couple things there.
JBS: And then we know we want to shoot up to Portland, Maine.
SC: And come back and throw a party!
JBS: A big old wrap-up party with people who have been there since day one.
SC: I think it should be boozy.
JBS: Oh, it will be very boozy.
SC: Maybe a barbecue. I don't like barbecue very much though. I like hot dogs and hamburgers, so we can do that.
JBS: The tour came up because we have so many — fans, I guess?
SC: Fans and friends!
JBS: ...who want us in their city, and it just makes sense. If we're going to do it, we need to do it now.
SC: Yeah, we don't want to get stale, like old bitches.
JBS: Cranky. "Here's your donut, get the hell out of here!"
SC: "Fuck you!" [Laughs.]
[We discuss transportation for the tour. It'll probably involve flying rather than road-tripping.]
SC: It would be cool to get an RV. I wonder what would be cheaper...don't put ideas in my head!
JBS: It'd be like Road Rules. We could make mini-challenges.
SC: I'll take my top off. Woooo! And we could sightsee. Let's look into that. I could drive an RV.
JBS: ...can you?
SC: No. I can't even drive a van.
JBS: I think I can drive an RV if my arms can reach. I have really tiny arms for my height.
Like a T. rex.
JBS:Yes! It's physically impossible for me to tie my shoes or put socks on like a normal person.
SC: Where I, on the other hand, have freak arms. An inch of missing shirt.
JBS: I'm kind of interested in putting on a chef's coat and seeing what it looks like on me.
SC: It'd fit you perfectly because the sleeves are always too short.
JBS: That's what you think!
Any dream collaborations — local brands or companies you'd want to do something with?
SC: Absolutely. Batch ice cream has been in touch — those two ladies are awesome. They are so sweet.
JBS: Pop tart ice cream…
JBS: ...in a donut sandwich? Done and done.
SC: Nailed it. Something with Richard Chudy from Boston Burger Blog. And working with all the restaurants is like a collaboration.
JBS: I have plans for us to get into the wedding scene.
SC: Yeah, we want to bust into weddings, even though I keep saying no.
JBS: Everyone's doing cookie bars and candy bars. I think it would be awesome to have a donut/pop tart bar. I may have already crafted a cake with mini pop tarts on it. We want to get into that.
SC: Yeah, it's like going to a party but not getting too drunk. That's the way I look at it. The wedding scene, the catering scene. We can also just stop making donuts and pop tarts one day and start another thing.
SC: Nachos and hot dogs.
JBS: I love hot dogs.
SC: I love nachos.
JBS: I may not be able to sell hot dogs because I'll just eat them all.
Anything else you want to share?
JBS: It's been great for me. Again, I'm self-taught, so being exposed to a different kitchen every week is awesome.
SC: It's like school.
JBS: It keeps me on my toes. I sometimes will not have the equipment I need. I have to get creative, and there are split-second panics, and I look at Stephanie, and it just kind of…
SC: You haven't cried.
JBS: I have not cried in a long time. I used to say "It's not baking unless you're crying." I think I'm getting stronger.
SC: I always say "Drinking and donuts don't mix." But it's really fun. We're goofy. We know we're goofy. This is just the way we speak, but it is serious. We've made a mark, I feel like. We have a lot of love and passion. We really care about what we're putting out there. And it gives my mother a place to go every weekend and tell her friends.
· All coverage of Trademark Tarts on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of Stacked Donuts on Eater [~EBOS~]