By Julie Fitz-Gerald
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
As I stand near a glass display case waiting to meet with the co-owners
of Hank’s Pastries, I find myself scouring the bakery in search of their
secret to success. Could it be the moist, pillow-like cinnamon buns
that seem to be calling me, or the smell of freshly brewing coffee that
is filling pot after pot without reprieve?
As I stand near a glass display case waiting to meet with the co-owners of Hank’s Pastries, I find myself scouring the bakery in search of their secret to success. Could it be the moist, pillow-like cinnamon buns that seem to be calling me, or the smell of freshly brewing coffee that is filling pot after pot without reprieve? Maybe it’s the easiness of the bakery/restaurant combo that has me wanting to grab a table and spend some time. The building, located at 204 Queen St. in Port Perry, Ont., has been a bakery for over one hundred years. It has changed owners a handful of times, and today is run by husband and wife team Ken and Angie DeJong. The duo has been creating sweet treats since 1986. As I slip into a booth at the back of the diner waiting for my interview to begin, the mystery of Hank’s success begins to unfold.
|Ken and Angie DeJong run Hank’s Pastries, which has been a local institution in Port Perry, Ont., for over 100 years.|
The atmosphere here is obvious; a laid back country diner on one side, a bustling bakery on the other. Waitresses sling pots full of hot coffee, hustling to not let a mug sit empty. All-day breakfasts and homestyle sandwiches on freshly baked bread leave the kitchen destined for hungry customers. Everyone here seems to have a smile. Within a few minutes the DeJongs join me in the booth, oozing the same kind of laid back, no guff, country charm.
“We have a sign on the wall that says, ‘Friends and Family Gather Here,’ and that’s true,” Angie says affectionately.
The business has been in Ken’s family since 1967, when Ken’s father, Hank, purchased it. Hank apprenticed as a baker at the age of 15 in his native country of Holland. He owned a bakery there for 13 years before immigrating with his wife and children to Canada. Hank’s eldest son, Wayne, took over the bakery in 1980. In 1986, Wayne put the bakery up for sale. Angie, a mechanical engineer, and Ken, a correctional officer, had a big decision to make.
“It was put in our lap – put it that way. That’s the way I felt at the time, it was like, ‘You’re buying the bakery,’ ” Angie remembers.
Ken remembers it very differently.
“No, no, no, it wasn’t like that at all. I grew up in the business since I was a small kid, so I always enjoyed it. I [didn’t really care for] this other job I was doing, so I decided to come back and take the business over.”
Angie concedes, “By that time it was going to be sold, and we were already looking at bakeries.”
Today, Hank’s Pastries is Ken and Angie’s second home. Ken begins each day here at 2 a.m., firing up the ovens and preparing his mouth-watering goodies for when the doors open at 7 a.m. On Thursday and Friday nights, Ken begins at 11 p.m. in order to have enough bread and baked goods or the busy weekend crowd. When asked about sleep, he smiles and says, “It’s hit-and-miss.”
For Ken, the best part of this business is the baking. Angie’s passion is more specific wedding cakes and specialty cakes – the more creative, the better.
“Ken constructs them and gets them ready for me and I do all the artwork. I’m basically the resident cake boss, there’s no doubt about it,” she laughs.
Angie has a reputation for giving brides two important things: the wedding cake of their dreams and a price they can be happy about.
“A lot of people will e-mail me pictures of what they see on the Internet and say, ‘Can you do this?’ And I can. I can do pretty much anything anyone asks.”
Angie’s wedding and specialty cakes are known throughout town for their creative flair. Some of her recent cakes include a gold Louis Vuitton handbag, complete with studded detailing, and a Cat in the Hat-themed cake with red, blue and white misshapen tiers. Advertising is word of mouth, and ecstatic customers have Angie’s cake business thriving.
“That’s my best advertisement, when you get someone who’s so excited about what you’ve done for them and then at their event, they’re telling people, ‘I got this cake from Hank’s.’ I do not have to advertise, I just don’t need to.”
Ken, who builds the cakes prior to Angie’s decorating, is happy with their current level of production.
“We don’t go to these wedding shows and all that, but if we did, we could probably triple our business. We’ve got to limit it. This weekend is overdoing it with six wedding cakes,” he explains.
Increasing demand for wedding and speciality cakes as well as wholesale orders has this duo and their team working at full tilt. Ken has limited their wholesale business to a select few, mostly longtime local clients, in order to focus on the in-store bakery, cake business and restaurant. The demand has to do with a high-quality product and low prices, something that Ken learned from his father.
“My dad always had the philosophy that it’s better to make a quick nickel than a slow dime. So as far as we’re concerned, it’s better to keep your prices reasonable, because then you’re going to keep your customers. It keeps the customers coming in here and it keeps us busy, too.”
Judging by the lineup forming at the front door as our interview approaches noon, Ken and his father’s philosophy is tried and true. High-quality products, fair prices and friendly customer service keep this bakery/restaurant abuzz with locals and tourists alike.
Angie says with pride, “We really have bubbly, friendly employees. The waitresses get to know their customers so well. When the customer comes in and gets to the table, the waitress already has their coffee waiting the way they like it.”
From the front line staff to Ken and Angie in the back, the customer is the focus. Special requests are welcomed and striving to meet their clienteles’ expectations is always top of mind.
“I think the mark of a really good baker or bakery is when the baker stops what he’s doing and accommodates for that one special request. When you do that and you bring that cake out for the customer, the customer knows that you went out of your way to do this for them. That stays with them, and you’ve got them for life,” Angie says.
Ken smiles in agreement, remembering a time when he bent over backwards to fulfil a customer’s order for four sheets of his bestselling Dutch cake. The order had been written down for the wrong week. Unaware, Ken had finished his baking that day and gone home to bed when he received the frantic call from Angie. He raced back to the bakery and pulled out all the stops, preparing and baking four sheets of the delectable sponge cake with custard filling and European butter cream.
Ken recounts, “She got her four sheets of Dutch cake; we delivered them and everything. She was so happy, it was unbelievable. We took $50 off for the inconvenience and [the customer] came back in and paid me – they were that impressed.”
It’s this dedication and care that has made Hank’s Pastries an institution in the Port Perry community. If you live in the community, chances are your child has been on a kindergarten tour of the bakery or played on a baseball team sponsored by Hank’s. New residents of the town receive a coupon for free cinnamon buns in their Welcome Wagon basket. Hank’s offers discounts to churches and schools, donates to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, makes a weekly donation to the local food bank and donates cookies to the Santa Claus parade.
As November nears, Ken and Angie are gearing up for their busiest time of year. The holiday season brings throngs of customers through the door in search of Hank’s famous cinnamon buns and their specialty holiday cookies. A normal Saturday sees 40 dozen cinnamon buns fly off the shelves, but that number jumps to hundreds of dozens per day during the holidays. Thousands of spritz and shortbread cookies are also hot sellers, with 15 different varieties to choose from.
The secret to this family-owned bakery’s longevity is clear. Ken and Angie have deliberately kept their business small, choosing to focus on high quality goodies, reasonable prices and strong relationships with customers. It has yet to be seen if the baking bug has bitten either of their two sons, Aaron, 21, and Adam, 19, but as Ken puts it, “When I was that age, it was the last thing I expected.”
Hank’s Pastries is open Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is closed on Sundays.
If you’re dropping by Hank’s Pastries, I have one piece of advice. Come early! As I leave my interview, the glass display cases that were teaming with row upon row of cookies, jelly doughnuts, tarts and the best custard slices around when I arrived are now almost bare. Looks like I’ll have to come back in the morning to fulfil my craving.