Alumni Jonathan Pollack and Stefani Pine Pollack took a love of photography and baking, respectively, and turned it into the Cupcake Project.
by Lisa Cary
Thirteen years after graduation, Jonathan Pollack, BSCS ’98, and Stefani Pine Pollack, AB ’98, are able to appreciate the “sweet spot” they’ve created in their work, home and family life.
Life for the Pollacks followed a fairly conventional route — he was a computer software engineer, and she was a corporate technical trainer — until 2007, when friends mentioned that they’d like to serve cupcakes at their upcoming wedding.
On a whim, Stefani decided to make the cupcakes herself, despite having no professional baking experience. She spent the next three months creating a different flavor each week so that the bride and groom could choose three of their favorites.
Fortunately, Stefani also decided to document her baking adventures in a blog she dubbed “Cupcake Project” (www.cupcakeproject.com). Her first post, on May 21, 2007, noted that her purpose was to record her recipes and photos, get ideas from others, and share mistakes and successes.
The three chosen wedding cupcakes — “Soda Fountain” (root beer-flavored), “Margarita” and “Gingerbread Latte” — were a big hit. After the wedding was over, Stefani decided to continue baking and blogging.
Her online following grew steadily in the first two years. As a result, People Magazine learned of Stefani’s work, and her “Pickle and Ice Cream” cupcake was featured in the April 2010 issue. She had created the cupcake in 2009 to announce her pregnancy to her readers.
“I get my inspiration from a variety of sources and experiences,” Stefani says. “Many of my recipes are seasonal or holiday-based, but I love to try unexpected taste combinations.”
Stefani’s creations have also been featured on the local Fox News Channel in St. Louis, in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, and in a children’s book, Megan Hearts Baking (Kegan Fate Publishing, 2008). The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine have even mentioned her baking. Since 2009, she has been a regular contributor of original cupcake recipes for PaulaDeen.com.
“I get my inspiration from a variety of sources and experiences,” she says. “Many of my recipes are seasonal or holiday-based, but I love to try unexpected taste combinations.” Because of her willingness to be daring, she has earned awards in various food contests — her “Baked Bean and Tomato” cupcake won first place at a 2008 Tomato Festival in St. Louis.
Stefani’s readers appreciate both her novel recipes and fun writing style. CupcakeProject.com currently logs a half-million page views each month — double the viewership of last year. On Blogged.com, “Cupcake Project” ranks 10th among cooking blogs, with an overall editor’s rating of 9 out of 10.
During the project’s first two years, Jonathan worked at his software engineering job but became increasingly interested in photography as he shot pictures of Stefani’s artful creations. When his job was downsized in 2009, he decided to pursue photography full time under the name J. Pollack Photography (www.jpollackphoto.com).
According to Jonathan, his big break into commercial photography came through by “being in the right place at the right time.” He had offered to take photos of the winning table at Slow Food St. Louis’ trivia-night fundraiser. The winning table was a team from Sauce Magazine, a culinary and dining publication in the St. Louis area.
“I love the variety of work,” Jonathan says. “Every morning I wake up looking forward to whatever is on the shooting schedule for that day.”
His contact with the Sauce team led to a steady stream of magazine work, taking photos of featured restaurants and menu items. He also does commercial work for several local and national publications and covers conferences and other events for a wide range of businesses and nonprofit organizations. Jonathan was official photographer for the National Hillel Conference held this fall at Washington University.
“I love the variety of work,” Jonathan says. “Every morning I wake up looking forward to whatever is on the shooting schedule for that day.” J. Pollack Photography has won a “Bride’s Choice” vendor award for the past three years from WeddingWire.com.
The Pollacks’ careers complement each other in myriad ways, and they spend almost all of their time together. Stefani serves as Jonathan’s second shooter for the many weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs, and other events he covers. His skill with the camera continues to make each of Stefani’s new concoctions look delectable in photos for her blog.
To Stefani and Jonathan, the most satisfying result of their business success is the time they can devote to raising their son, Myles, born in August 2009. For the foreseeable future, they plan to continue on their current career paths, grateful for the sweet rewards they owe to the humble, lovable cupcake.
Lisa Cary is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.