In just under a year, The Buttered Tin's pastry chef and co-owner Alicia Hinze has seen her restaurant become a beloved part of St. Paul life. On a recent Saturday morning, with the place packed with customers inside and out, Hinze took time out to chat about her inspirations, her baby (the restaurant), and what a difference a year makes.
See also: Best Restaurant in Lowertown 2014[jump]
Hot Dish: So the city must be happy that you are here (in Lowertown)?
Alicia Hinze: Yes, it's kind of funny, Mayor Chris Coleman tweets about us all the time. He loves our biscuits and gravy, so we get a lot of city support. In fact, Chris Coleman's nephew works for us. He's one of our bussers.
How did you come up with the name, The Buttered Tin?
It was a friend of mine, Matt Burgess. He is the creative director for Olsen (an ad agency). He was helping me come up with names for just a bakery, and he said the Buttered Tin, and I just felt like that was so right. Even though it hints more at the bakery side of the business, it still works for both the savory and the sweet. And, who doesn't like butter?
Agreed. What's the first thing you remember cooking or baking as a child?
It would probably be sleeping over at my grandma's house and her baking bread. And then we would help with the dough. I remember I loved waking up and she already had the dough rising. It was really yeasty and I loved it. That's probably my first memory of baking and knowing what it was about. But, I have to be honest, I didn't get into cake decorating and real baking until I went to Le Cordon Bleu. I wasn't some Martha Stewart at home.
What happened to you at Le Cordon Bleu?
When I went to Le Cordon Bleu, I thought, "Wow, this is how cake and frosting is supposed to taste and I love this." That's when I really got into it and it took off from there.
So your grandmother is your inspiration?
Yes, she's the only real baker in my family, but all my family has an appreciation for food. My dad likes to cook and my mom likes to do a few things in the kitchen and eat out. Both sides of my family have a lot of siblings and are pretty big families, so everything was always gathered around food. That was Jen (Jennifer Lueck, co-owner of the Buttered Tin) and my inspiration as well. Not only do you want delicious food, but delicious food brings you together. People come together over it. Wherever there's food, people gather. [page]
Do you have a go-to snack or comfort food?
Yeah! Ice cream. I love ice cream. I cannot turn it down or put it away. If it is around, it will be gone, so I never buy it.
And do you have it at the restaurant?
No, we don't have it here. And I love making ice cream. But I love getting ice cream too. At the end of the day when I think of a treat, that's something I want. And to be quite honest, I eat cupcakes and cakes and cookies almost all day. If I'm not trying them, I'm craving them.
What is a normal day like for you? What time does it start?
My day used to consist of getting here at 4 a.m. and then baking until noon. And then I would go home and sleep for a couple hours and come back to the restaurant at 3 p.m. I'd stay until 9 or 10 p.m., sometimes midnight, and then I'd be back here at 4 a.m. all over again the next day. And that happened for a good four or five months. But now that we have more bakers trained in, I help work the front of house. When I am in the kitchen -- I've actually scheduled myself out of the kitchen -- I go in for special orders and specialty things or take people's shifts when they can't make it. My schedule right now is all over the board, but it's still much, much better than it was. Thank god I live close. I live on Mears Park here so I would go home, sleep for four hours, come back work for eight hours, go home, sleep for four hours -- that was kind of the cycle. It was rough.
What was it like on Cupcake Wars? Is that like the real-life running of a bakery in any way?
It can be like real life, like when you have really large orders and you don't have a lot of space and you're working on a deadline. Oh my gosh is it intense. It's certainly not why I got in to baking. I love baking because it's relaxing to me and I love it. And not because I have a camera two inches from my face and a clock going tick, tick, tick. But I wouldn't change that experience at all. Even though when I was there I wondered what I was doing. It was challenging and an opportunity that not many people get the chance to have. It was intense to say the least, but definitely worth it. People say I should post it, but since it's not really me... You're not looking to do that again.
Have you changed any of your dishes up since you started the Buttered Tin?
We have new specials all the time. Jason (Schellin, the chef) is really good at changing things up. As far as the bakery goes, I always try to do different things. I mean, we have thirty different flavors of cupcakes right now. We always have a cake on display. I have a new cookie coming up called the Triple Chip made with Kettle Chips. For mother's day, I made guava jam. I used to live in Costa Rica and my host mom taught me how to make it. That was for customers to put on their toast. I like fun, little surprises like that.
How are you feeling about your one-year anniversary? It's pretty exciting.
Yes, I can't believe it. Although it feels like we've already been here for ten years. It's so amazing. It is a good, relaxed atmosphere. A lot of that is due to Jennifer and Jason having so much experience in the restaurant business. Their experience helped to make it feel already established. The kitchen and the front of house were working very well and I had the bakery. We had people with the right experience doing each part and it made it mesh and feel well-oiled already.
The Buttered Tin will celebrate its one year anniversary with free coffee for all patrons on Tuesday, June 17 during their service hours, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are holding an open house for friends, Kickstarter supporters and others that evening at the restaurant. Check out their website or Facebook page for details and to RSVP. Sounds like a sweet time if you can get in -- space is limited.