PHOTO BY JASON BOYETT

Amarillo’s Hey Buddy Hey Pal releases new board game

Santa’s elves are hard at work in Amarillo, Texas.

In the offices of Hey Buddy Hey Pal, the Cake-N-Bake Challenge board game has arrived just in time for the holidays. The team of Katie Quinn, Noelle Havens and Christina Thompson pack up boxes of the latest creation from the company responsible for the EggMazing Easter Egg Decorator Kit. They’re shipping games out to influencers, hoping to generate the online buzz that helps make the company successful.

Hey Buddy Hey Pal Investments, LLC represents the joint effort of Amarillo entrepreneurs and longtime friends Curtis McGill and Scott Houdashell. Scott Houdashell is the company’s “Head Egg,” and Curtis McGill holds the title of “Chief Financial Eggspert.” Cake-N-Bake Challenge is the newest addition to their family-friendly catalog, and they’re excited to introduce it to the world. 

McGill shows off the game. “It’s fun, but it’s a challenge. You can feel the intensity building. And if you win, you get to ring the bell and wear the chef’s hat. That’s my favorite part.” He slips on the Cake-N-Bake Challenge chef’s hat. “The kids want to wear the hat.”

In Cake-N-Bake Challenge, two to six players race to build cakes. The game overflows with life-size goodies. There’s the fluffy chef’s hat, a call bell, and colorful cake layers made of textured, half-inch thick foam. Finished cakes boast illustrated toppings, from sprinkles to strawberries.

Players receive an action card each round with a cake illustration. Someone calls out “Ready, set, bake!” and everyone scrambles at once to stack a cake that matches their card. The first to ring the bell and declare “Cake done!” receives a birthday candle card—and the honor of wearing the chef’s hat. 

McGill holds up a shiny game card. “There’s another level of play with special actions, like building the cake upside down. Or you might have 10 seconds to memorize your card. Then you flip it over and build from memory.”

The rules include optional team play. Lead bakers guide assistants, who keep their eyes closed, to find the textured pieces for their cake. According to McGill, “A sight-challenged person could play this version of the game with a sighted partner.”

Cake-N-Bake Challenge arrived in time for Christmas, but another holiday led to the formation of Hey Buddy Hey Pal.

The Spinning Egg

Houdashell is a “born and raised” Amarilloan. McGill, a Spearman native, came to Amarillo to attend West Texas A&M University. They met through the city’s music scene. “Growing up, you think you’ve got all the best friends you’re going to have,” Houdashell says. “But when I met this dude, I thought, ‘I’ve got room for one more.’”

A milestone event occurred near Easter in 2015. Houdashell, McGill, and their families gathered to dye Easter eggs. Houdashell remembers, “The kids got bored and went back to their phones. It came to me, ‘I can make this a little more fun.’” They stuck a hot glue stick into an electric screwdriver and stuck the heated end of the glue stick to an egg. Once the egg started spinning, kids decorated it with markers. “All the kiddos started saying, ‘I’m next, Uncle Scott!”

Houdashell didn’t stop at saving the McGill-Houdashell egg dying party. “I spent a solid year trying to spin an egg perfectly.” After countless prototypes, lightning struck. “I had one of the prototypes sitting in a weird way. Wires touched, and all of a sudden the egg started spinning in a certain way. I sat and stared at it for 10 minutes, thinking ‘How is this happening?’”

He needed help getting the Eggmazing out of his workshop and into people’s homes. “You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t get it to the next step, it doesn’t go anywhere.” 

Fortunately, McGill has a background in shipping and logistics. They decided to follow the project where it led them and turned to the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

“Most of that first Kickstarter was bought locally,” says Houdashell. “We had such a supportive push behind us.” They reached their funding goal. 

“When I’m not the smartest guy in the room,” Houdashell says, “I make sure I’m at least sitting next to him. McGill said, ‘We’re not shipping a container with empty air in it. Let’s figure out how many fit in a shipping container, and that’s how many we’re getting.’ And it was 10,000.”

Houdashell describes the Eggmazing’s arrival. “The semi-truck pulls up to my insurance agency 43 days before Easter, 2017. The driver swung open the door and we thought, ‘What did we just get into?’ Boxes filled up my insurance agency and my workshop. Filled them up to the top. That’s when it hit me. ‘This has to work.’ I told Curtis, ‘I don’t care if I have to put these in the back of my truck and drive all over Texas, we’re gonna sell them.’

“We went to the Amarillo Peddler show. My mom hard-boiled 900 eggs. Curtis’s mom was helping. The next weekend was the Make A Wish Car Show. We did everything local that we could.” 

McGill remembers those early challenges. “We went to a local store, Unique Toys. Mike Nowak, who’s been in the Amarillo toy business for a long time, basically said, ‘Look, I like it. I’ll carry it.’” Nowak recommended they join ASTRA, the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. 

Through ASTRA, they reached independent toy stores across the country. One owner made an 8-clip video of the Eggmazing in action. It went viral, and the Eggmazing sold out in 23 days. McGill puts it plainly: “We woke up in the toy business.”

Houdashell recalls, “We had to figure out how to ship those 10,000 units. With all of our family and friends, we were in someone else’s garage every night, packing boxes and hauling them to the post office. We brought in trailers of Eggmazings every day until we got them shipped out.”

Hey Buddy Hey Pal then introduced a new product, the Treemendous Ornament Decorator, and went on the road. “Our first toy show was in Philadelphia. I told Curtis, ‘If we can just pay for the booth!’ We left that show with over a quarter of a million orders.”

Shark Attack

Then they heard a certain television show was holding auditions in Dallas, one in which entrepreneurs ask a panel of investors to transform dreams into reality: Shark Tank.

Houdashell knew what they had to do. “Again, we said we wouldn’t say no to any opportunity or any path this took us down. Curtis and I—and his wife, Staci—went to the open audition. Woke up at 4 a.m., stood in line, all that. Every toy show we went to, we called the producers. ‘We sold another 200,000 units!’ We walked on the show with 1.4 million purchase orders.”

With funding from Lori Greiner of QVC, McGill and Houdashell explored the values of Hey Buddy Hey Pal. According to McGill, “When Scott was decorating with the kids and they went their separate ways, his goal was to get them back to the table. That’s the mission of our company. We want to get kids back to the kitchen table with their families: playing, creating and working together. That’s the hope for every one of our products.”

They added the DinoMazing Egg Decorator, with eggs that reveal a mystery dinosaur. An inventor reached out with a novel method for displaying carved pumpkins for Halloween, and they brought the Stack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Stacking Kit to market. Next up is the Cake-N-Bake Challenge.

“We’ve been approached by other inventors who don’t fit our mission,” says McGill. “Amy Friedland brought us this game and trusted us with it. It fits our brand perfectly.”

“We played board games growing up,” says McGill. “We didn’t have all the devices. You sat down and you played games. And it’s crazy how COVID brought them back to the forefront.”

Board gaming is looking like a smart investment for businesses. The board game industry had been growing steadily over the years, but COVID-19 lockdowns left millions of families looking for wholesome home activities. According to Statista and SkyQuest, what was a 7.2 billion-dollar industry in 2017 is expected to top $30 billion by 2028.

As Hey Buddy Hey Pal grows, what does its future look like? Can this community expect the company to stay in Amarillo? “We’ll be staying for a while,” Houdashell says. “Roots are deep here. Everything started here. This is home, and they make airplane tickets if we need to go somewhere.” Most of McGill’s family lives here now, too. “It’s home,” he says.

McGill and Houdashell demonstrate the value of building relationships in a community like Amarillo. The two met through live music. Family and friends bought the first Eggmazings and helped to ship them all over the country. Local business owner Mike Nowak guided Hey Buddy Hey Pal to the resources they needed. With all of that in mind this holiday season, McGill feels excited to see growth for Amarillo businesses. “When all ships rise, it’s really fun to see each other doing better and cheer each other on.”

Cake-N-Bake Challenge and Hey Buddy Hey Pal’s other products are available from heybuddyheypal.com, Amazon.com, and wherever finer toys are sold. 

Author

  • Ryan McSwain

    Ryan is the author of the horror thriller Monsters All the Way Down and the superhero meta fantasy Four Color Bleed. Alongside his fiction, he’s written for all the best industries in Texas. With his wife and two children, he’s happy to call Amarillo home. You can find him at ryanmcswain.com.

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