Daniel Drake, the young artist who set up shop in Armstrong’s Shade Family Room, has an unusual medium: pancakes.
The Missouri native’s story began in south St. Louis where he worked as a fry cook just trying to make ends meet. He needed to find ways to make better tips, and noticed some of his coworkers would make Mickey Mouse ear dollops on their pancakes. This got him thinking.
“I realized pancakes don’t need to be round,” Daniel said.
He began to create smiley face pancakes by making the eyes and mouth out of smaller pancakes and placing them on top of the larger pancake. The first man he served these pancakes to loved it and left him a tip of $15. Daniel was thrilled, and began doing this regularly.
Daniel began learning new techniques to improve his pancake art. He started to use layering and heat toning to create color contrast. Five years after his first smiley face pancake, a picture of one of Daniel’s pancakes went viral on Facebook.
“After that picture went viral things kinda happened pretty quickly,” Daniel said. “‘The Today Show’ called and asked me to make their faces on live television, and people started to call and ask me if I did parties.”
Daniel realized his art had the potential to be more than a trick for tips. He and his best friend, Hank Gustafson, teamed up and created a social media presence for the business they dubbed “DanCakes.”
Hank, a talented videographer, and Daniel began creating time-lapse videos of Daniel’s process. Daniel soon acquired the name “Dr. Dan the Pancake Man,” posting his pancake creation videos on their now highly successful YouTube page, which has over 200,000 subscribers.
Daniel’s part-time hobby of making art on pancakes suddenly became a full-time gig.
“If you had told me four years ago that this would be my full time job, I probably would’ve looked at you sideways,” says Daniel.
Today, the pair travels the world performing at all sorts of events from birthday parties, universities, comic cons and stage demonstrations. Daniel averages between four to seven events each week. Together they’ve gone to places such as Brazil, Dubai and Bangkok.
Daniel even traveled to Miami University and put on one of his shows in Armstrong Student Center. He set up his cooking station, camera and TV, and broadcasted his art on the stage in the Shade family room.
A constant line formed during the time Daniel spent entertaining students and faculty with his unique craft. Over the course of two hours he cooked pancakes resembling whatever students requested — usually their own face.
Daniel said his favorite kind of events to host are birthday parties because of the relaxed atmosphere.
“It’s very humbling that I’ve stumbled into this career where people invite me into their homes and feed me, and for those two hours it’s like I’m part of their family,” says Daniel. “There’s moments when I have these reality checks where I’m like, ‘How is this possible?’ I’m very fortunate, I feel blessed.”
In addition to the events, the pair produces two to five videos per week for their YouTube channel. Each video shows a timelapse of Daniel creating different pancake pictures, from Pokémon to Donald Trump.
“We just look at what’s relevant that day, like what movies or video games are coming out, random holidays and stupid ideas just on a whim,” Daniel said.
During the 2016 election the pair shared a video where Daniel created a pancake of Donald Trump’s face, but when flipped over it was John Cena instead. The video was a huge hit, viewed millions of times and shared on many social media platforms.
Daniel and Hank also get between five to ten commissioned pancake videos per week for various brands. Businesses recruit the pair to create videos as it has shown to be an effective marketing tool.
Daniel and his partner get roughly 30-40 percent of their income through these commissioned videos. Additionally, viewers become interested in the performance aspect, and many gigs are booked as a result of the videos.
DanCakes has expanded to include four pancake artists, who each perform at their own shows. Two of the artists are people Daniel found on Instagram who he thought had potential; the other is Ben, a friend of Daniel’s who he made music with in the past.
“Ben didn’t have any sort of experience creating pancake art, and he wasn’t good at it at first,” says Daniel.
Daniel pushed his friend to learn how to create pancake art to prove that it is a skill that anyone can learn. After almost two years of practice, Ben is now the second most hired artist, just behind Daniel.
“I believe if you give people an opportunity, they’re going to rise to the occasion,” says Daniel.
Teaching his friend is part of Daniel’s business plan to produce a pancake art kit, so anyone can learn to create pancake art like he does. Daniel hopes to put out the kit in the next year.
Daniel likes to think of himself as “a sort of Elon Musk,” and has a wide variety of ideas he wants to explore. His goal is to create a fleet of artists to hold events, so he himself can focus on creating more content.
He is looking for ways to create pancake art that can be hung on the wall, and is in the process of creating a studio where he can freeze-dry pancakes for this purpose. He also says he’d like to do a Bob Ross-style tutorial to teach others how to create pancake art.
Daniel hopes to be able to use the money made from his DanCakes business to help fund all of his other wild ideas. An ambitious young man, he has many plans for his future and wishes to tackle as many projects as he can.