How one St. Louisan flipped a fry cook job into pancake art fame | St. Louis Public Radio

How one St. Louisan flipped a fry cook job into pancake art fame

Oct 10, 2018

A St. Louis native has turned pancakes into an artform.

Daniel Drake co-founded the business called, what else? Dancakes.

Wielding a squeeze bottle filled with colorful batter, Drake can draw just about anything from cartoon and anime characters to portraits of celebrities and the average Joe. For the last five years, Drake’s self-taught talent for edible art has allowed him to travel all over the world.

But before he was a globe-trotting pancake artist, Drake was a fry cook at the south St. Louis Courtesy Diner, barely making ends meet.

Dana Baldus pours pancake batter before mixing it with dye to create a "ROYGBIV" color palette.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

“I had this impetus to figure out a parlor trick or do something like sing, or rap or dance or do something to make people give me better tips,” Drake said.

At the time he was trying to get his band, Psychedelic Psycho Nuts, off the ground. While the band was slow going, Drake decided he’d pour a little more effort into his day job. The opportunity arrived on a graveyard shift with a customer who was having a rough day.

Drake decided to make him a smiley face pancake.

I make him the biggest most ridiculous pancake I can,” Drake said. “His demeanor changes entirely. And he ends up giving me a $15 tip.”

Daniel Drake uses a reference photo while using pancake batter to draw the character Guts from Berserk.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

He kept going and months later, a photo of the iconic video game character  Mario made out of a mushroom pancake went viral and ended up on the front page of Reddit. Eventually, a producer for the Today Show stumbled on the photo and invited him to appear on a segment of the show to draw the faces of the hosts.

Drake hesitantly said yes.

“I had never done portraits and stuff and that's what they wanted me to do,” he said.
“And so, like the rest of that shift I spent figuring out how to draw Al Roker's face with a drip cut.”

Daniel Drake says most people for whom he creates pancake art at events ask him to draw portraits of them or their pets.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Despite being nervous, the Today Show appearance was a success and more calls came. All of the attention was unexpected, and before he realized it, millions knew him as Dr. Dan the Pancake Man.

A friend Drake first met through a plan to make a video for his band became instrumental in his success. Hank Gustafson filmed Drake in his kitchen drawing 151 original Pokémon characters. The video went viral on YouTube.

Daniel Drake presents a finished pancake to St. Louis Public Radio reporter Marissanne Lewis-Thompson.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Eventually the two would create their own company, Dancakes, in 2015. Since then they’ve partnered with big name companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crunchyroll and the NFL. In July, they found themselves in the kitchen with pajama-clad singer Katy Perry making pancake art.

They spent so much time with Perry that they nearly missed their flight home.

“She was cool, she was great, but it was after a while it was like we got to catch a plane ride. Katy,” Gustafson said. “We got to go.”

As the business grew, they’ve hired four additional pancake artists, two locally and two on the West Coast, and a video editor.

Drake says business is good and opportunities continue to pour in. While he said it took time for him to accept that pancake art, not music, was his road to success, he’s come to see it as a huge blessing.

“To have something like this, that I didn't actively choose, that just kind of like randomly happened to me, and to have this be my path to success, I don't know, I think there's something kind of profound about it,” he said.

Dancakes plans to keep flipping pancake art into success. The latest creation is a griddle kit they hope to release to the public by the end of the year.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011