By LOU WILIN
It was 2014 and downtown Findlay was full of hope and excitement. Marathon Petroleum Corp. began construction of a $100 million-plus expansion of its campus.
But in 2014, the construction also roiled up a lot of potential business-killing messes: orange cones, street areas blocked off, traffic delays, backups and chaos.
Frustrated motorists were avoiding downtown. But Lisa Allen and her husband, Tom, jumped in.
They bought The Baker’s Cafe, investing in it their lives, much of their savings and her parents’ savings. At 105 E. Sandusky St., it was just down the block from ground zero, a Marathon parking garage under construction.
“I think people thought I was crazy … It was constant turmoil with streets closing and backups. People were backed up. There was no parking to be had anywhere,” Allen said. “But I just kind of was looking into the future.”
The future is now.
Four years later, The Baker’s Cafe is about booked up for making wedding cakes in 2018. It also serves a variety of other baked goods, as well as sandwiches, wraps, quiche, soups and salads, and offers catering services.
Allen has increased the business’s focus on baking. It features treats like “Cheesecake Babies” of turtle, cherry and salted caramel; cinnamon rolls; pastries, muffins and “pumpkin tops … the best part of the muffin,” various pies and cakes, and of course, brownies, cupcakes and cookies.
Allen’s vision for The Baker’s Cafe had been baking for some time. Years before she bought the business, she baked cakes and cupcakes at home for friends and family. That evolved into her selling her homemade baked goods to friends and coworkers.
She got her love of baking from her grandmother, great-grandmother and great-aunt, who was a home economics teacher.
When she bought the business, she made more use of the front window for attention-drawing displays. She and her husband have remodeled the restaurant a couple of times.
After surviving years of Marathon construction downtown, the business faced more street and sidewalk closings and traffic disruptions last year from the downtown revitalization.
And even after all of that, convenient customer parking downtown still can be scarce, she said.
Fortunately, she has a good lunch crowd that walks to her restaurant from downtown businesses.
But sometimes being a small business owner can be terrifying.
“There are days where we definitely have our struggles. It’s not been sunshine and roses every day,” she said. “We’re just like all the other downtown merchants. We struggle.”
The restaurant business involves tight profit margins.
“You don’t make a lot of money on food. There’s not the markup that there is in retail,” Allen said. “You aren’t in it for the money, for sure. You’re in it because you love to do it.”
“I love to see that something I’ve created has made somebody else happy. A tasty lunch or a wedding cake. That’s what I love,” she said. “I love the pictures that people send me when I make a little smash cake for a 1-year-old, and he’s got his hands in it and he’s just thrilled to death and everybody’s happy. That’s what I love.”