Margie’s Sweet Shop is known throughout the Texoma area for their delicious treats, cakes and pies, but what most people don’t know is that is has been family owned for almost fifty years. The location hasn’t changed, in fact, the painted sign on the window is even still the same.
“My grandparents, Margaret and Walter Hohfeld, opened it in 1970. In the late 60s it had been Marie’s Bakery, and to save money they shortened it and added a few letters to make it say Margie’s,” Michael Gerstner, the current owner said, “They had been living with family and saved and saved,” but changing the window painting was an expense that they couldn’t afford; and since Margie’s can be short for Margaret, it stuck and is still there.
That is not the only thing that hasn’t changed. Margaret’s signature recipes are still used. “She started with the Lemon Pudding Bundt Cake, which was the most popular item. We still make it and haven’t stopped, and it is funny because we have come full circle and Bundt cakes are back in fashion,” he said. Many of his customers have remarked that he makes Bundt cakes just like they do in Dallas, since they have become so popular again. He just smiles and assures them that they always have made them that way.
Bundt cakes are such a favorite that Michael makes Bundt wedding cakes. He makes them in different flavors and sizes and rents beautiful tiered cake holders to go with them. Bundt cakes, pastries and cookies have always been our signature dessert. Margie’s Sweet Shop bakes their own breads, croissants, sweet breads, cinnamon rolls, pastries, cookies, cakes and pies. The bakery also has a deli open for sandwiches and baked potatoes, and the chicken salad and egg salad are Margaret’s recipes also. She used to say, “You do what you do best and don’t worry about the other guys. You concentrate on yourself.” She was a smart lady. She had more information in her little pinky, than I do in my whole body,” Michael said with a chuckle.
Margaret passed in 2005, but Walter is going strong, getting ready to celebrate his 94th birthday this year. Michael’s uncle, Michael Hohfeld took ownership after Margaret and Walter sold it to him, but he passed in 1994, and that is when the family approached Michael to see if he wanted to buy the bakery. He was only 23 years old, newly married and had been taking paramedic classes and planned on joining the Wichita Falls Fire Department. Michael had been working at the bakery since he was 16 in 1986 and had been putting in back breaking hours at Margie’s Sweet Shop trying to help his family, because his Aunt Tina [Hohfeld] was too depressed and couldn’t come in. He was planning on quitting because of the workload and had even turned down his chance to be in the Fire Department Academy to help out; but he and his wife Kathleen decided to buy it and run it themselves. They have been running the business for 33 years, longer than any family member has.
Michael’s brother, Mathew Gerstner, is his master baker and his “right-arm, while his father, Gene Gerstner, makes all the cookie dough. Kathleen worked at Michael’s side until about 5 years ago when she had health problems that prohibited that type of work. “It was hard when my wife couldn’t work here, it was like a divorce. We had been together every day for years, and I missed her,” he said. Now there are 7 people on his staff, and during the holidays they bring on 2 more. “Last Christmas we had to take the phones off the hook for two weeks, because we couldn’t take any more orders—we were booked up. We make our own crusts and we sold over a thousand pies.”
In the past it wasn’t unusual for Michael and Kathleen to work late into the night only to start again at 4:00 a.m. But 3 years ago, Michael’s brother had a heart attack, and Michael knew it was time to make some changes. “I realized that we couldn’t keep going that way. When my brother got back, I told him that we had to change things, because if one of us dropped, the business is over. We needed to run our business to suit the customer and to suit us,” he explained.
“We were making 225 products in here 3 years ago, and we took off 75 products. It is mainly just keeping the recipes that do stand the test of time. We made 52 different cookie doughs, and now we are making 15. We quit doing all the intricate designs on the cookies, because they took hours and people would order 8 or 10 dozen for the next day. We also took off intricate layer cakes. We do sheet cakes and Bundt cakes now. A wedding cake can take up to 8 hours to decorate. We have steered away from that,” Michael said.
“That is where I was torn with the customers, and people were like, ‘Oh I know Michael. He will do it.’ and that has been hard. I had to stop that, and it has been so tough, because I always want to do everything for everybody. Some people didn’t like it, but it was really a time balance thing. People don’t know what you put in, but I love it and I knew I had to make some changes so that I could get some of my time back. I do like that the stress level is down. I wanted to change the business model so that it is easier for the next generation. I’m not sure who that will be, but we changed our business plan to stay relevant. We did do the changes in phases, so that it wouldn’t be too much of a change for our customers,” he said.
Michael’s son, Hayden has been trying to get him to make these changes for a long time. Hayden, while he doesn’t have plans to work or own the bakery, is in marketing and has been trying help his dad facilitate the changes. Hayden stressed that if Michael would streamline his products then sales would increase and there would be less waste. Michael jokingly says now, “I tell my son that I can’t take anything else off the menu because I am too busy now.” Hayden also does all the computer work for the business. He runs menu programs and mans the Facebook account. Michael and Kathleen also have a daughter, Brealynn, who works at the bakery. He says that she has a knack for it, but her husband, Steven Morrow Jr., is in the military and they won’t be staying in Wichita Falls.
“One of the biggest changes for me is that I got back in church and got my faith back. For the last 23 years I have been here. I feel like I got my life back when before the bakery was my life. I had to work seven days a week and do prep on Sundays. Being back in my church has been the biggest blessing for me. I overworked. That is the biggest takeaway—don’t let what you do engulf you.
Margie’s Sweet Shop is located at 4029 Call Field Road. The business hours are Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There is also a boutique in the dining room where unique items can be purchased.
– Cindy Kahler Thomas