OSSIAN — It would be a formidable task for any bakery owner, let alone a new one: baking 1,500 pies in three days.
But that’s what Gary Short signed up for when he recently purchased the iconic Heyerly’s Bakery in Ossian.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving he was working on baking 1,500 pies for Thanksgiving week. Pumpkin was most in demand, but fruit pies would also be popular. He carried around two timers so he knew when to rotate them in and out of the huge oven.
He only started baking as a hobby about 10 years ago. The most he’d ever baked at one time was 400 cupcakes from his home kitchen.
So how does a guy go from baking 400 cupcakes in a home oven to 1,500 pies, dozens of doughnuts a day, cakes, cookies and more?
He always said if Heyerly’s went up for sale he was going to buy it.
In early March he found out it was going to be sold, and he made a call the next day.
“It took six to seven weeks to come up with a business plan,” he said. He laid out a plan for the next five years.
“The bank said ‘we want to come along for the ride,’” Short said. So did his son, Justin, and his wife, Kelly, who Short said has been the “backbone” through this whole process.
The Shorts bought the bakery from the four Heyerly brothers, Ron, Lynn, Stan and Galen. Their father had started the bakery in 1931.
So Short took over the business right before Thanksgiving, the busiest time of the year. The brothers had 220 years of experience among the four of them. Short had two months.
Luckily the purchase included the property, equipment, name, recipes and perhaps most importantly, two months of training.
“We bake at night,” Short said. The “we” includes Short, his son Justin, and the four Heyerly brothers. “The first month we were their gophers,” Short said. Now with four weeks of training left Gary and Justin Short are doing more of the work with the brothers observing.
Gary Short hasn’t yet left his day job in manufacturing, so he’s logging some serious hours while doing both jobs. He gets off work and sleeps two hours before going into the bakery, then works most of the night there. He goes home and gets another two hours of sleep before going in to his day job. So he’s averaging four hours of sleep per day. “It’s not too bad until the end of the week,” he said.
But it can’t go on like this forever. At some point he knows he will have to quit his day job.
Short knows as well as anyone you don’t change a good thing. And Heyerly’s doughnuts are beloved by many. On any given Saturday they could sell 400 dozen, Short said. “We’re not changing the doughnuts.”
Then he said, “Some things have to change.” He’d like to start selling his cakes,, cookies and cheesecakes, and wants to bring in a barista to make it more of a coffee shop.
He’s going to add seating and Wi-Fi by mid-2020. And at some point he wants to start Tasty Tuesdays, when the public can taste-test and offer their opinions of new recipes.
About 20% of the employees left when the bakery changed hands, which Short said is typical.
He’s hired his son and two other young men to work full time at the bakery. The rest of the employees are part time.
He acknowledges that they have good days and bad days, but wants his employees to be happy.
“I just want people to enjoy working here, to be proud to work here,” he said.