Customers line up in anticipation of the flip — the pancake flip of any caricature pancake they desire. St. Louis local Daniel Drake, otherwise known as Dr. Dan the Pancake Man, has gone from flipping pancakes at Courtesy Diner to taking requests at local venues and private parties. Drake’s pancake art created a stir when a Super Mario pancake he created was posted to Reddit and went viral.
Drake, 24, said it all started one night when he decided the next customer who walked through the Courtesy Diner door would receive the craziest thing he could think of.
“The guy was just the most intimidating guy I could think of; he had tattoos, gold teeth and a stern face,” Drake said.
To Drake’s surprise, when he gave the customer a short stack of pancakes that had the goofiest smiley face on top, the customer’s face turned from stern to delighted. The customer gave Drake a $15 tip, and that is how he began making caricature pancakes for customers.
After five years, Drake left Courtesy Diner to launch his pancake business. He set up a Kickstarter fund with a goal to raise $15,000 for a food truck, which he planned to name the Dancake Van.
“I’ve been struggling in St. Louis as an artist. I relied so heavily on my day job to pay bills and make ends meet,” Drake said. “I was afraid if I lost that I’d be screwed.”
Drake was unable to reach his goal in time. The week before the fundraising was due Kickstarter was hacked. Drake said he believed people were not comfortable with handing over their credit card information, so no one donated the week before. Drake said he and his team were asking for too much, and they were not as prepared as they should have been.
“I saw the failure of the Kickstarter as a way for me to reevaluate my system. There is so much we want to do,” Drake said.
Drake is not only a pancake artist but the lead vocalist for his band, the Psychedelic Psychonauts, who are in the works of releasing their first album. The band plans to fundraise for their album through Kickstarter. Drake also designs a comic book and has a YouTube series called “Breaking Batter,” a spin off of “Breaking Bad.” His friend Hank Gustafon writes the scripts for the videos.
Gustafon said he has enjoyed being part of Drake’s journey. He recalled their trip to New York when Drake was going to star on “The Today Show.” Gustafon said Drake was nervous the entire time, so in order to ease his nerves, they made fun of New Yorkers together. At large events, Gustafon assists Drake by flipping pancakes or stirring up the crowd.
“He always surprises me,” Gustafon said. “He never says no to any requests. I’m like, ‘There’s no way he can do that,’ and he says ‘Yeah, I’ll try that.’ And Dan always does it, he always does.”
Drake said making pancakes is cheap. In total, he said it costs him about five cents to make one. All he needs is a griddle, batter, water, a spatula and a
condiment bottle to create his pancakes.
Drake received his nickname from a friend in high school who said she needed a doctor. He said out of nowhere he yelled “You rang?” and since then, she called him Dr. Dan. The name caught once she started working at Courtesy Diner.
Drake said his family is very supportive of his pancake art. His father was in the military, so Drake traveled for most of his life before he settled in St. Louis. Drake said he is proud that even his parents have heard about him while they are miles away.
On Drake’s left forearm he has a Japanese tattoo for strength. He said he received it in memory of his stepbrother Adam, who wanted the tattoo for himself before he died. He described Adam’s death was the most defining moment of his life.
“That having had happened to me brought me down to Earth,” Drake said. “It helped me better understand and empathize with what it meant to be a person in this world.”
Drake said he and his team plan to start another Kickstarter and utilize different methods of fundraising. Now Drake and his team are searching for a sponsor for the Dancake Van. He plans to get his Dancake Van going and then plans to move to Los Angeles. Drake said he believes there are more opportunities for an artist there.
In the meantime, Drake said he will continue to cater private gigs and concerts. He said he is looking forward to working with restaurant Tenacious Eats, which will have an event for Mother’s Day.
Drake said it’s important for people to go the extra mile in anything that they do.
When he decided to make that first goofy-faced pancake at work, he said, “That was just me putting a little more energy in something I had to do at my day job anyway.”