When Andrew Swartz was but 4, he decided to bake a pumpkin "pie" by rolling a rather large pumpkin into the family's oven, turning on the heat, and heading off to play. Hours later, after helping his mother clean up the burst vegetable, they baked a real pumpkin pie together.
His mother's patience that day was soon sweetly rewarded. Andrew baked his first "scratch" cake by the precocious age of 8, and a perfect chocolate mousse by the time he was 10. Today, one stop at Andrew's Pastries in Marion, Ohio, is delicious proof that his creativity and enthusiasm for baking has never waned in the 35 years since the exploding pumpkin.
Although his pastry shop is celebrating a successful decade, and supplies everything from thousands of doughnuts each week for the central Ohio Whirlpool and Honda plants to biscotti for all of the Staufs/Cup O' Joe's coffeehouses in Columbus, Andrew's passion for quality hasn't waned. "This is a 98 percent scratch bakery," he says proudly. And that means real butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, imported Belgian chocolate, and nearly everything made from start to finish on the premises — a rarity with this volume of business and even in small towns such as Marion, whose "bakeries" have been taken over by grocery store chains. Yet Andrew believes that people appreciate quality and his attention to detail.
"You set the standard," he says, and the one-stop shopping "super centers" make the best advertisement for his business. "This is one of the few industries left where all the raw materials come in the back door, and the finished product goes out the front door." And even the untrained eye — and palate — knows the difference in quality.
Swartz's career has alternated between professional schooling and real-world experience in pastry shops and top restaurants, from Cleveland and Marion to Washington, D.C., New York, Virginia, and North Carolina. He attended Tri-Rivers Joint Vocational School, a trade school for food service in Marion, for two years, then worked for another two years in pastry shops and hotels in Cleveland and Columbus before attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, graduating in 1987. He then worked in restaurants in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia, before landing a yearlong stint as an assistant pastry chef for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Swartz stresses that "culinary school is not a real-world situation ... where everything is neat and orderly, and each person has assigned tasks to perform." He seems to prefer the uncertainties, challenges, and direct contact with customers that come with running his own business in a small town. In fact, when he first moved into the property in the Servex Center in 1995, he insisted on tearing down the wall between the kitchen and the rest of the shop. "People like seeing the owner back there working," he says. And he proves his point by calling out a booming "hello" to each customer, many of whom he knows by name and pastry preference.
Swartz keeps it all in perspective and is the first to credit his wife and partner, Becky, with turning his talents into a real business. She handles the payroll, taxes and marketing and is a trained baker in her own right. That nod to others' contributions extends to his 12 employees as well. "My biggest mistake was not getting people to train earlier," he says, gesturing to Grant Campbell, who is "real serious about this business ... and now is in charge of all cookie, cake, and other pastry production." And to Becky Smith, the cake finisher, "who has only been with us for six months and now decorates cakes as well as I do ... a real natural talent." (All of the shop's cakes are by special order.)
You can't talk with Andrew Swartz for long without getting back to the baking. Because he was trained by German chefs and then worked in Italian restaurant kitchens, his creations seem to have the perfect blend of precision and artistry. Take, for example, the biscotti (Italian for "twice-baked cookie") that he ships several times a month to Columbus. Biscotti are traditionally made by rolling the dough into logs, then baking, slicing, and baking again. But one day when Swartz was working in an Italian restaurant, he forgot to bake the cookies a second time. Both the head chef and he agreed that the taste and texture were even better. He has not double baked his biscotti since, but they are still hand-rolled and hand-cut, a bit softer, more flavorful, and still perfect for dunking in coffee.
Then there are the hundreds of doughnuts that he and his team prepare from scratch each day. The shop turns into a doughnut-making operation between 4 p.m. when it closes to customers and 4 a.m. the next day when the doughnuts are shipped. Swartz explains that with this 24-hour cycle of doughnut production, shipping and presumably eating, there is no need to extend the shelf life of the product by adding dough conditioners, like the chain doughnut producers do. Such additives compromise the texture and flavor of the product, he says.
Swartz's creations are irresistible: his signature cheesecake, as dense and tart as a New York-style cheesecake, but just a bit creamier in texture; his signature cookies, such as "Presidential Sweets," named in honor of Marion-born Warren G. Harding; and the hundreds of lemon meringue and pumpkin pies that his shop sells during the holidays.
Andrew Swartz is even more enthusiastic about the quality of his products
today than he was a decade ago when he started the business. The proof is temptingly
displayed in bakery cases in his pastry shop.
Makes 4-5 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3-1/2 cups brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups oatmeal
1-1/2 cups sweetened coconut
1-1/2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup pecan pieces
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add espresso powder and
mix in. Add eggs and vanilla in 3 stages and cream in well after each addition.
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to
the creamed mixture and mix until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and combine
until well mixed. Drop by heaping tablespoon onto a greased baking sheet. Bake
for 10-12 minutes.
Andrew's New York-style Cheesecake
Graham cracker crust:
1/2 cup butter
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 8-ounce packages cream cheese
2 cups sugar
7 large eggs
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix butter and graham cracker crumbs and press firmly onto bottom of a 9-inch springform plan.
Combine cream cheese and sugar, and cream together well. Slowly add eggs, combining well after each addition. Mix in lemon juice, followed by cream and vanilla extract. Scrape bowl and mix well. Pour into the springform pan lined with graham cracker crust. Bake for approximately 90 minutes or until set.
Andrew's Pastries, Servex Center
Originally published in Ohio Magazine October 2004
1282 Delaware Ave.