Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Uprising Muffin was to be located in an 18,500-square-foot space. The store will be 1,850 square feet. This version has been corrected.
There was a time when Donnie Simpson Jr. thought he might follow in his famous father’s footsteps and become the next big thing in Washington radio.
Instead, he’s decided to try being the next big thing in pastries.
The elder Donnie Simpson reigned as the signature morning personality on WPGC-FM (95.5) for 32 years, and his son began charting his own career alongside him, beginning as an intern and later producing the show until he and his father left the station in 2010.
Next spring in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C., the star’s 39-year-old son will open his own venture, Uprising Muffin Co., a concept he began plotting as broadcast radio came under fire from streaming online competitors such as Spotify.
“Who has time to wait for their favorite song to play when they can hear their favorite song play on Spotify right now?” Simpson Jr. said. “So radio didn’t seem to me to have too good of a future.”
Simpson, a 39-year-old Rockville father of two, watched as other local entrepreneurs made big businesses by refashioning baked goods such as cakes, cupcakes and doughnuts and opening storefronts in re-energized D.C. neighborhoods. Warren Brown, founder of U Street’s CakeLove bakery, became an author and reality TV show host. Across town, Georgetown Cupcake got so big that it expanded to Los Angeles.
Though he does not bake himself, Simpson thinks he can start a similar revolution for muffins. After leaving radio, he drew up a business plan and took a job at a Starbucks in Olney, where as a manager he said he learned the ins and outs of customer service.
His father provided encouragement, start-up capital and frequent taste-testing.
“D.J. has that entrepreneurial spirit that I always wish I had,” Simpson Sr. said. “I’ve told him so many times that I was always jealous when people would come by my house, Smith & Sons Plumbers, or whatever — they had businesses they could pass down to their kids. For me, you can’t pass down popularity.’”
“To see his dream become reality. It’s been very rewarding. I can’t wait for the day when he opens,” he added.
Simpson Jr. said he imagined a place where customers might start their morning with a muffin and coffee and return to get a quick wrap or sandwich at lunch. He approached Streetsense, a Bethesda-based design and real estate firm, about finding him a location and received some initial skepticism.
“Literally, he walked in with an idea,” said Herb Heiserman, managing principal of Streetsense. “He had worked at Starbucks, figured that out, but we stopped him and said, ‘Wait a minute, let me see your business plan. We need to challenge this. We’re not going to let you spend all this money, all your savings and borrow from your dad, and fail.’ ”
Streetsense advised Simpson on a marketing plan, store design and a location; he ultimately chose 1,850 square feet located above the Shaw-Howard University Metro station at the corner of Seventh and S streets NW, part of a new mixed-use development where the United Negro College Fund recently relocated its headquarters.
The building’s developer, District-based Four Points, wanted a local coffee shop, and Four Points principal Steve Cassell said the more he learned about the concept the more he liked, despite receiving interest from more established national chains. “With any new business, there’s risk associated,” he said. “And he put forward a very sophisticated business plan and a financial model that we thought made good sense. . . . We believe in him. We think he’s going to be successful.”
Simpson teamed with a pastry chef on recipes for 37 flavors, eight of which — including blueberry streusel and black bottom (or chocolate and cream cheese) — will likely be available every day, alongside four flavors that will rotate. (His father’s favorite is carrot.)
“I just felt that this was something that had not been done. You talk about the cupcake craze.There’s only so many ways you can do a cupcake or a doughnut, and it’s already been done,” Simpson Jr. said. “Nobody has done this yet.”