UT Alumni Run West Campus Bakeries

An employee at Cream Whiskers making a strawberry cheesecake cream puff.

Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

What's a hungry student to do? This is one of the defining questions of the collegiate experience, but for those who make their home West Campus, the answer may be as simple as taking a walk around the corner to the nearest bakery.

It's only natural that purveyors of food and snacks would make their way to West Campus, considering the significant student population and the tendency for those students to hungrily seek out convenient sources of sustenance. A number of eateries have both sprung up and packed up over the years. Amidst the current landscape one can find a number of independent bakeries, each of which specializes in different areas and offers its own unique approaches to the business of satisfying their hungry customers.

 Cream Whiskers is a small and relatively new bakery tucked away between Rio Grande and Pearl streets. Owned by University of Texas graduates John and Tina Sun, the bakery specializes in the light and sweet pastries known as cream puffs.

“I tried a cream puff in Taiwan and I really liked it. We couldn't find a place here that sold them, so we just opened our own,” recalled John Sun.

The decision to open the bakery in West Campus was made by the former students in order to take advantage of a local crowd of which they had once been a part. “Students are very willing to accept new concepts,” Sun said.

Convenience was also a factor in picking a spot for the shop. “We have a good location for on-foot traffic, it's easy to get here, and it's very walkable,” said Sun.

Opening the bakery brought new and varied challenges. Even though the pair had spent a significant amount of time testing out various recipes and baking methods to find just the right mix for their new shop, they weren't able to anticipate every potential difficulty.

“We had never made these goods on a mass scale, so we had to figure out how to do that. Even the oven is different, being commercial,” Sun said. “There's a lot of trial and error.”

Things have improved for Cream Whiskers since those early days, and John was quick to take to the lessons he learned as a young entrepreneur. “Getting your name out is important, and going online can get you a different crowd,” Sun said.

Further north, Polkadots Cupcake Factory sits on Rio Grande Street in a structure that has stood since 1908. The bakery hasn't been around for quite so long, but it has seen enough years of activity to have firmly established itself in the area since opening in 2008.

“It will have been open six years in June, and so far, so good,” said Olga Lee, a UT graduate who owns the bakery along with her husband and fellow UT graduate Ben Lee.

While Olga is the source of the many varied confections on offer at Polkadots Cupcake Factory, her path to becoming a successful baker was a winding one. She graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and took a desk job before deciding to commit herself to baking full-time.

“I had always wanted to work with foods and with crafts. I didn't like working in an office and I told my boss I would be leaving in six weeks,” Lee said. “I did and we opened the bakery.”

Polkadots Cupcake Factory churns out a number of fresh and varied cupcakes on a daily basis while also offering specialized cakes and cookies to customers seeking individualized goods.

“We have the fresh cupcakes every day, and we do a lot of our specialty cakes for weddings and other events,” Lee said.

Lee has now been in the business of baking treats for long enough to see and understand the seasonal cycles, allowing her to know when to expect the most and least business to come in.

“Our busiest schedule is when school is in, during the fall and the spring. It's the same with wedding seasons, because people don't want to get married in the summer heat,” Lee said.

Lee has also found her shop to be aptly named, given which of their goods best provides for the business. “Cupcakes definitely bring us the most profits.”

Just down the road from Polkadots Cupcake Factory sits another West Campus bakery. Texas French Bread has been in operation for over 30 years, dating back to 1981. The shop has more recently expanded from its humble baking roots to include a full dining service in the evenings, but it hasn't forgotten its baking origins.

“We're still a full-service bakery,” said Hall Sheriff of Texas French Bread.

Sheriff is quick to further detail just what it is that Texas French Bread has to offer. “We have a from-scratch kitchen,” he said. “We do all of our own food preparation, we make everything in our kitchen. And that's something that's pretty rare these days, doing all of that.”

Expansive seating arrangements and a relaxed vibe invite customers to take their time and enjoy their fresh food on-site. Helping to set the vibe is the bakery's stance on adult beverages.

“We're also BYOB,” Sheriff said.

With the transition to consistently offering dinner service having been completed for some time now, the bakery is continuing to move forward. Sheriff noted that Texas French Bread “had just recently started a remodeling process,” one designed to update the look of the shop while still preserving its current appeal.

As one would expect from any ambitious small business, the other bakeries have also cast their eyes towards the future.

John Sun of Cream Whiskers spoke of potentially expanding his business beyond its current locale, as well as broadening their offerings. “Our first goal is just a set menu, but in the future we'd like to open a second location,” Sun said. “We're also going to have frozen goods in the future.”

For her part, Olga Lee of Polkadots Cupcake Factory would just like to see her business further its reach in an area it has already broken into. “We'd like to do even more catering, which we already do for weddings,” Lee said.

With each bakery having something different to offer and other eateries still waiting to be discovered by locals, options for the hungry student in West Campus remain quite diverse. Given the apparent ambition of the people providing those options, there could still be much more to come in the future. And it's only a matter of time until the next person opens up shop and helps to make food options in West Campus that much more unique.