How the tattooed, body-building ex-soldier became an Omaha cupcake baker

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:00 am

Cupcake Omaha is at 501 S. 11th St. and open seven days a week.

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Jarek Reynolds is awesome.

He's got a body suit of tattoos, shoulders to knees and still growing. He does CrossFit (bench press: 285; deadlift: 405). He's a musician with a condition that makes him perceive musical notes as colors. He can grow the kind of beard that would put most guys to shame.

Reynolds, 27, has spent most of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, first as a linguist in the U.S. Air Force (he knows how to speak Farsi), then as a field service engineer for a private contractor. But he's done with that now.

For the first time in a long while, he's joining the stationary masses, putting down some roots in Omaha and getting into an altogether unlikely industry for a tattooed, bodybuilding ex-soldier:

Cupcakes.

About the cupcake shop

In October, Reynolds and business partner Chris Janicek opened Cupcake Omaha at 501 S. 11th St.

Janicek, owner of the cake baking business Cake Box, said the cupcake trend hit Omaha around 2010, when he noticed his business was getting a lot of cupcake orders, even though they didn't advertise cupcakes. When he saw the trend was going to stick around, he got in on it.

For Reynolds and Janicek, the Old Market spot, formerly a flower shop, was a dream location. They get quite a bit of foot traffic and cater to a late-night crowd. They're open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

They bake about 500 cupcakes every weekday, 1,200 on Saturdays and Sundays. They rotate in dozens of flavors and will even entertain the odd request. One customer just suggested maple bacon cupcakes. This might happen.

How Reynolds became a baker

Reynolds, a Mansfield, Ohio native, joined the Air Force when he was 18 and was later stationed at the Offutt Air Force Base. He eventually got his own place in Omaha's Cathedral neighborhood, where he became friends with his neighbor, Chris Janicek.

One day Reynolds was doing yard work when Janicek drove by. One of his cake deliverers wasn't able to work that day. Could Reynolds help him out?

That was the start. From then on, whenever Reynolds wasn't overseas, he was helping deliver cakes for Janicek. Reynolds left the Air Force in 2010 but later went back to the Middle East to work for the Sierra Nevada Corporation. If anything, the deployment schedule was even more grueling -- 90 days on, 30 days off.

During leave last summer, Reynolds and Janicek discussed the idea of opening Cupcake Omaha. The concept gradually became a reality, the location was secured and Reynolds gave his notice. Now he's a cupcake baker and business co-owner.

Tattoos

When he first moved to Omaha, Reynolds walked into the tattoo shop Liquid Courage and said he wanted a tattoo body suit. They laughed and said, “You think you want a body suit.”

But Reynolds stuck with it over the next 10 years, scheduling appointments whenever he was in Omaha. Now he's nearly covered.

Music

Reynolds has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense triggers another. Some people taste color. Reynolds sees sounds.

For Reynolds, musical notes become bursts of color. It can be beautiful, but it can also be overwhelming. To be able to go to concerts, he's invested in a pair of custom-made earplugs to muffle the sound and avoid sensory overload.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) his synesthesia, Reynolds is a musician. Mostly electronic music, but now he's working on a modern classical project with Omaha violinist Kaitlyn Hova, who also has synesthesia. At Hova's shows -- and possibly for future Reynolds/Hova performances -- she does a live synesthesia light show, different colors popping to different notes. It's a way to show the rest of us what their world looks like.

Beard

Reynolds does not currently have a beard but could if he wanted to. And it would make you insecure about your beard.

Home

Until recently, besides his car, Reynolds could fit everything he owned into two duffle bags.

Now he's moving into an apartment with his girlfriend and trying to remember to buy laundry detergent and taking hot showers instead of baths with water bottles and baby wipes. He just bought a mattress for the first time.

It's all still very strange.

“It's definitely weird how it all happened,” Reynolds said. “The last 10 years just flew by. Overseas, it could get pretty crazy. The biggest thing for me now is just learning how to chill.”

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