Before he reached the age of 17, New Milford's Bryan Mueller had four brushes with death. So, what's the story behind this co-owner of Dumont's Sweet Indulgences Dessert Shoppe and Food Network Cupcake Wars contestant?
Mueller was born with a life-threatening kidney disease, Posterior Urethal Valves, a congenital condition that affects only boys. Before he reached the age of 18, Bryan underwent nine surgeries and nearly died four times.
On February 4, 2005, when Mueller was 17, he received a kidney transplant from a 24-year old man who was killed in a car accident. For the first time in his short life, he is healthy.
When Mueller and Leigh Mulvihill, also a New Milford resident, joined forces at St. Joseph University's Haub School of Business in Philadelphia, they wasted no time forming a partnership. Inspired by Mueller's medical triumph, together they established the non-profit Donate Perspective as a way of helping others in need. Donate Perspective was aimed at their generation to raise money for organizations such as Kidney Donor Awareness.
Shortly after graduation, in October of 2010, Mueller and Mulvihill partnered with Mueller's mother, Gwynn Galvin, a test kitchen chef at Woman's World Magazine, to open a dessert shoppe in Bergen County. Mueller and Mulvihill were going to be the business brains behind Galvin's confectionary creations.
They found "quaint space" off the beaten path on West Shore Ave. in Dumont where they hung their shingle. However, it did not go according to (business) plan. Necessity forced Mueller and Mulvihill into the kitchen where both attest, "There were no brilliant mistakes that resulted in a fabulous new creation."
"There were just mistakes," they profess. "Lots of them."
Having no classical culinary training, and armed only with Galvin's recipes, they meshed their chutzpah with their marketing skills and before they knew it, Sweet Indulgences began to gather a loyal following.
"We decided early on that the shoppe had to do more than sell cupcakes," Mueller said.
"We had to be the place where we knew everybody's name," Mulvihill says, finishing Mueller's thought. "We had to be about 'conversation and cupcakes.'"
What surprised them most was the amount of time they had to put in to make the business work.
"We spend a minimum of 12 hours a day just working," Mueller said. "It makes us appreciate what it takes to operate a small business--how much of the owners selves go into making the business work--and as a result, we are now committed to patronizing and supporting independently owned local businesses."
In the summer of 2011 they had an epiphany after meeting Mueller's donor family for the first time at the N.J. Sharing Network Walk.
In an emotional meeting, Mueller learned that his donor, Robert Walker, Jr., shared his entrepreneurial spirit.
"Learning that Robert and I share an entrepreneurial spirit, I told his family that we're in business together," Mueller said.
"But that's when we started the 'Wall of Miracles," Mulvihill said. "Meeting Bryan's donor family was the inspiration that made us determined to bring 'Sweet Miracles' into our business."
Mulvihill admits that in the beginning she and Mueller were so consumed by the running of the business that their mission of adding the non-profit element was put aside.
Once they met the donor family, they had the catalyst to balance the weight of running a business with having that business contribute to the greater community of those in real need.
"Once we did that," Mulvihill said, "our business truly became an extension of who we are."
Their wall of "Sweet Miracles" includes such charitable organizations as Eva's Village in Paterson where they donate their leftovers; Dina Manzo's Project Ladybug that brings financial and emotional hope to children and their families undergoing expensive medical treatments; the Marty Lyons Foundation that grants wishes to terminally ill children; and Wounded Warriors who offer aid and assistance to injured members of the armed services, to name just a few.
They also have a wall dedicated to those first responders who perished in the terror attacks of 9/11. Situated next to this wall is a flag with the names of all the deceased of 9/11.
Mueller, whose brother is a member of FDNY, Ladder 29, "The Bronx Boys on Da' Hill," holds a special place in his heart for all first responders and on his wall hang patches from just about every area police and fire department.
Once they built a following, customers kept telling Mueller and Mulvihill that they should compete on the Food Network show "Cupcake Wars," but they were too busy building a business to be focused on that. So, the customers contacted Food Network for them.
"One day we got a call from the Food Network asking us to submit a video for consideration to appear on Cupcake Wars," Mueller related. "Three weeks later they invited us to Los Angeles to compete on the show."
They came in second on the show, but the exposure gave them a measure of notoriety and put them on the culinary map.
"People come from the all over New Jersey to see us; the Hamptons, Philadelphia," Mueller says. "It's been great."
In addition to working with large charities, Mueller and Mulvihill also work with local schools and organizations to help raise money.
Sweet Indulgences is currently working with New Milford's "Rebuild New Orleans" group. Orders are currently being taken for Sweet Indulgences cupcakes that Mueller and Mulvihill will deliver to on Friday, May 11 from 3pm to 4pm.
"We want to make life as sweet as possible for those in need as our way of giving back for Bryan getting a second chance at life," Mulvihill said. "We want to do whatever we can to give others a second chance."
Sweet Indulgences Dessert Shoppe is located at 120B West Shore Avenue Dumont, NJ 07628 (201) 384-2253