People know a good muffin when they taste one.
It’s a good thing, too. Because one of the concerns for Cindy Hawkins, head pastry chef and owner of Circle City Sweets, when she moved into the Indianapolis City Market back in May 2010, was that some from the market's broad range of customers might balk at her price point (a scone will run you $2.50 — comparable to Starbucks, yet never frozen).
But then they tasted her muffins, cakes, and cookies. Hawkins gets very few complaints now — and if she does it’s usually from a customer who hasn’t yet had that first bite, doesn’t yet realize that everything in her store is made from scratch.
“I didn’t know what a cake mix was until I was in high school,” Hawkins explains. She grew up baking with her mom, Janet Law, who now works for her in the City Market kitchen. “Anyone can buy a muffin from Costco and resell it — if we don’t make it, we don’t sell it.”
Customers mulling dessert choices can watch all the action; for instance, croissant dough being folded with butter, rolled and re-rolled, to create those famous layers of tender dough so hard to achieve by a home cook. They might see this work being done by Hawkins, or by her sous-chef, Allison Hardy, from the French Pastry School of Chicago, where Hawkins was also formally trained.
Hawkins's love for baking started long before her stint at the pastry school. In her previous business life, she worked in the insurance field, even loved her job. She baked as a hobby — her husband (Roger Hawkins, now owner of the adjacent Circle City Soups) was a local chef, so baking for friends in the evenings was a natural way to spend her time away from a day job.
But then her business grew, she took a few short classes at the Pastry School, and found herself enrolled in their 6-month program in the summer of 2008. Hawkins continued to work for local chefs on weekends, driving to Chicago during the week for her classes. “It was crazy,” she laughs, shaking her head at the exhausting memories.
It seems to have been worth it. After a few years on the Farmer’s Market scene, she’d been thinking about building out a storefront at the repeated request of her customers. In the end, it was financial consideration that won out: She could build a commercial kitchen at City Market for about half the cost of renovating a stand-alone space.
“I had friends say to me, ‘Are you sure you want to go to City Market?’” And part of this might have been the stigma attached to the market in previous years, that of a “big food court.” But that reputation is changing, in part due to the presence of locally-minded vendors like Circle City Sweets.
Hawkins was the first of a new group of local vendors to enter the market, and she’s loved watching the changes that have occurred under new management. “We support each other, and each other’s businesses — I bake all the bread for Circle City Soups, and make granola for Natural Born Juicers. It’s been great to develop relationships with both vendors and regular customers. I love being able to support downtown and and be a part of the community.”
“I think the fact that people can watch us making the food, talk to us about it, that’s huge.”
And for customers who can’t get enough watching during their lunch hour, or feel an uncontrollable urge to get their hands on that buttery croissant dough, Cindy offers classes, taught at City Market (check circlecitysweets.com for availability). Students can learn how to make some of the delectable pastries offered at her City Market store — past classes have featured French macarons and Christmas stollen.
But for the vast majority of her customers, watching from the counter will do, as they happily pay two and a half bucks for their freshly-baked brunch croissant, mouths too full to haggle.
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