“It’s time to make the donuts…”
Like the guy on the old commercial for a national donut chain, Tim Hepner sets his alarm for the wee hours of the morning, gets up and heads to his Oak Harbor sweet shop to make the donuts, and the breads, muffins, cookies and other sweet treats too.
Hepner opened Sweet Treats by Tim at 114 W. Water St. just over a month ago and so far, his confections have been selling like hotcakes. In fact, those who wander in to the shop too late in the business day just may be disappointed.
Tim Hepner, owner of Sweet Treats by Tim, is
practicing his cupcake baking and decorating
skills for a try on the Food Network show,
“Cupcake Wars.” (Press photo by Tammy Walro)
“When I first opened, I started with 20 dozen and I kept running out by 8:30 or 9 a.m. Then I went up to 30 dozen and sometimes I still run low or sell out,” he said.
On a recent Monday, by mid-morning the display cases held several trays containing three or four donut and pastry varieties. As the steady stream of customers rolled in, Hepner consolidated trays until just a few remained.
One customer came in in search of a loaf of rye bread. Though the shop was all out, Hepner offered to have a loaf ready for him for the next day.
A couple strolls in looking for donuts. The gentleman chooses his quickly; his wife struggles to decide between two of the sweet treats. “Get them both, he urges.”
For Hepner, the conversation and the interaction with customers are among the best aspects of owning his own business. “I grew up in the restaurant business. My parents owned The Ambassador Restaurant, near the Ohio Turnpike exit at I-280,” he said. “I worked there when I was 13.”
Hepner found he enjoyed the creativity and the challenges of the business, and in 1981, he went to culinary school in San Francisco.
While on the West Coast, he’d sometimes compete in live TV cooking competitions. “That was back in the day, when I was younger and could move around faster,” he said. “I thrived on the challenge. I lost a lot but I won a couple of times too.”
One of his competitors was Guy Fieri, a chef and restaurant owner known for his television series on the Food Network.
“That’s before he got popular,” Hepner said.
After spending some time in Tucson, he decided to come back to Northwest Ohio, where he worked as a chef at the Holiday Inn French Quarter and the Fremont Country Club.
“It’s a hard job working long hours plus holidays and weekends, but I really enjoyed the cooking – I just got tired of the corporate aspect of restaurant work,” he said.
While working as a chef, he started a catering business on the side, making food and specialty baked goods for corporate and other clients from his home kitchen.
As the business grew, Hepner said he needed more space, so he decided to open a shop where he could do baking and sell his products on site. His wife and granddaughter help out too.
“This is close to home; my wife grew up here and I really like the people here – the bus drivers, the Red Hat Ladies and the ‘regulars,’” he said.
The shop features tables and a long bar – a leftover from its days as The Oaks bar – where customers can take a seat and enjoy a pastry, a cup of coffee and some conversation.
“The bar is the biggest conversation piece in this building, “ Hepner said. “I have guys who come in and talk about the old days at the bar and the good times they had.
“One time, I was talking with some of the old-timers and one of them said, ‘Your oven’s smoking.’ I forgot I had cookies in…they were burned like hockey pucks,’” he said, chuckling.
“It’s like ‘Cheers’ – where I’d like to get to know everybody’s names,” he said. “Because even though I own the business, the customers are my bosses…they tell me what they like and that’s what I make.”
And the customers like the fact that they can see Hepner tending to the pastries and breads in the oven throughout the morning.
In the coming weeks, they’ll probably see him practicing his cupcake frosting and piping skills, as Hepner readies for a try on “Cupcake Wars,” Food Network’s popular show that pits four of the country’s top cupcake bakers in a face off that includes three elimination challenges until only one decorator remains. The sweet prize is $10,000 and the chance to showcase their cupcakes at a special celebrity or national event.
Hepner was chosen to compete after he sent a recipe and bio to the show. He’s tentatively scheduled to fly out next month to tape an episode that will air in August. He’ll be joined by his cake decorator. The pair will work to make cupcakes based around a theme that they won’t know until we get there. “Fortunately, we work extremely well under pressure,” he said, adding, “I’m not nervous now, but the day I get on that plane will probably be another story.”
Hepner was chosen based on his recipe for his Oreo Fix cupcake – a favorite with customers. Other popular cupcakes include the Salty Payday, though the tried-and-true chocolate, white and cookies and cream also have a big following. Mini-cupcakes are available upon request.
The Sweet Treats menu also includes a wide assortment of donuts – baked not fried, Hepner noted, along with jumbo muffins (call for choices), and cookies, including chocolate chip, peanut butter and sugar, among other varieties.
Banana, zucchini and other bread varieties are also available. Hepner also offers cheesecakes and other cakes, including double chocolate walnut, carrot and banana cinnamon bundt cake. Wedding and special occasion cakes are available by special order.
“If you don’t see what you want, just ask,” Hepner said.
Sweet Treats by Tim is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m.-noon. Hepner also caters special events. For more information, call 419-349-5843.