by Kirby Lindsay, posted 22 August 2014
Since 1981, Simply Desserts has occupied the same small storefront at the center of the Center of the Universe. Passers-by can look in the big window, past the happy patrons, to see the cake display case full of scrumptious desserts. It is, after all, on the walking path nearly anywhere in Fremont. For my nephews, I dubbed it ‘the yummy window’ and while we don’t necessarily step in for delectable delights every time we pass, we will still stop to dream of deliciousness.
Our admiration is returned. “I appreciate all our customers,” Phil Tobin said, “after all these years, there are a lot of options out there, and we’ve had customers all that time.” Since they start, owners Tobin and Stacy Hagiya have hand-crafted all the amazing cakes, black bottom cupcakes, brownies and a few, special cookies, from scratch, in the shop’s kitchen here in Fremont – and they plan to continue doing.
“We came from San Francisco,” Tobin recently explained, “Fremont reminded us of that, before the boom happened there.” When they looked at opening their shop in Seattle, the Fremont neighborhood wasn’t much to look at. “Costas [Opa] has just opened,” he recalled, “and the real estate agent said, ‘it will take off.’”
“It took about five years…” Tobin recalled. “Initially we were wondering if there was enough foot traffic. At first, it was slow.” Across the street from the 500 square foot storefront they rented was an Alcoholics Anonymous hall (possibly Fremont Fellowship,) which had a similar assortment of motorcycles parked out front to those parked down the block at the Fremont Tavern. Next door, sat the Washington Post Café (now home to Jai Thai,) a popular, destination eatery that would move, in time, to Pioneer Square.
Tobin rented the storefront from Larry Sloane, who had gotten the building a historic landmark designation. The designation set strict limits on the signage the fine dessert shop could have, which is why Simply Desserts still has a fairly plain, simple and not brightly colored sign.
The original shop space also had a back window, in the kitchen, that looked out on a rough parking lot. On that lot once sat the Fremont Hotel, before fire took it out. After Mike Peck purchased the building, he built on the site – currently home to Sirena Gelato. The new building took away a bit of storage, and the back window but the loss also, Tobin noted, cut down the heat in the kitchen in the summer.
Creating A Following
“The landlord has worked to keep unique businesses in the area,” Tobin said of Peck. Tobin also praised the effort made by others in the neighborhood to fix up the area, and bring in art and events. “I think it all attracts people,” he remarked. “Fremont is so nice for customers,” Tobin said, “they move away, but they come back.”
“Most of our customers are from outside the neighborhood,” Tobin noted. Some mention having trouble with traffic and/or parking in Fremont, but Tobin reasoned that traffic and parking can be difficult all over the city. “One reason we left San Francisco,” Tobin observed, “was that it was too crowded, no parking, too expensive.” The success of Seattle has led to the same situation here, but now Simply Desserts is an established fixture and part of that success.
“We have customers that came with their parents,” Tobin said. He’s seen his customer base expand, from families that came in to their children and their children’s children buying birthday cakes.
Meanwhile, the business has actually shrunk since it began. “Our plan was to do retail,” Tobin said, “not wholesale.” When they started, Tobin and Hagiya made wholesale cakes, in addition to those they made for their retail customers. They supplied delis, and theaters – making cake sold in slices at intermission (including at the Empty Space Theatre, before it came to Fremont.)
In the 1990s, the retail business had grown so well that the wholesale could be shut down. “Luckily for us, what we were offering is where food was heading,” Tobin observed. Simply Desserts makes its long list of delicious cakes – only some of which are available in the shop, but all can be purchased for special events and birthday cakes – using quality ingredients, crafted by hand.
“We make everything from scratch,” Tobin explained, “it’s fairly intensive.” While they have help, Tobin and Hagiya still do most of the baking themselves. They also add new cakes to the offerings list (available on the Simply Desserts website,) and retire those that don’t sell as well. As for the favorites, like the Chocolate White Chocolate, the Red Velvet Cake and the Chocolate Truffle, “when we get one we like, we are pretty consistent,” making the cake the same way every time, for a consistent flavor customers can depend upon.
“For a long time, we were the only place open later,” Tobin observed about Fremont. Today, the neighborhood business district has dozens of late, and later, night businesses – and plenty of places to get dessert – “but it hasn’t impacted our business.”
The little dessert shop gets busy, as customers return – and bring their family and friends. As for Tobin and Hagiya, “we enjoy what we do.” While he wouldn’t promise to stay open forever, he did say that, for now, they have no interest in doing anything else.
…and the yummy window promises to be there the next few dozens of times I pass that way…
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- by Kirby Lindsay, November 2, 2005 in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook
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©2014 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.