NO LONGER HIS FATHER’S ‘SHOEMAKER,’ SWISS PASTRY SHOP’S HANS PETER MULLER FINDS SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
By Rachael Lindley
Photos by Jill Johnson
While most of us are deep asleep at 1 a.m., Hans Peter Muller is arriving at Swiss Pastry Shop ready to work.
What began with his father, Hans Muller, leaving his homeland of Switzerland and emigrating to the United States, led to the eventual opening of Swiss Pastry Shop 50 years ago this June. The bakery, famous for its black forest cake, has remained at the same location on Vickery Boulevard for its entire existence, but that doesn’t mean the business hasn’t gone through its fair share of changes.
Hans Peter began working at the shop in 1992 after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in business and attending the American Institute of Baking in Kansas with the intent of taking over the bakery one day. Hans Peter began running the bakery in 2006 when his father stepped down at the age of 70. Hans Muller passed away in 2012 of Parkinson’s disease.
It took the father-and-son duo some time to find a good groove.
“Dad wasn’t crazy about the quality of my work,” Hans Peter says. “He called me a shoemaker for a long time, which is a big Swedish insult. My dad was extremely technically proficient. That’s how they train bakers in Europe. He used to tell me that if you made a mistake on a pastry that it was taken out of your pay. I have more of a creative streak. I like to see what’s trending globally and how I can adapt it to our local audience. It allows me to play with recipes.”
Aside from fresh pastries, pies, cakes, cookies, breads and quiches, Hans Peter
likes to try his hand at Swiss classics. His latest take on the bündner nusstorte, a classic Swiss pastry with a honey caramel walnut filling in a buttery shortbread crust, has been receiving high praise from bakery regulars.
Another recent Hans Peter adaptation was his spin on the milk bar pie. He gave it more of a Southern twist, and the Texas Krack Pie was born.
“I made it my goal in my 20s to not be a shoemaker anymore and really perfect my craft,” he says. “By the time I turned 30, I had gotten pretty good at this.”
Hans Peter also started a dine-in lunch and dinner concept in 2016, but even though Swiss Pastry Shop found itself on a few top burger lists, the bakery found it difficult to keep up with all of the growth, despite Hans Peter working 14- to 15-hour days.
In spring 2020, all of it came to a screeching halt. With staffing issues, supply
chain problems and shutdowns caused by COVID, Hans Peter had to stop serving lunch and dinner. The pandemic forced him to analyze the business; he discovered they were very profitable with the bakery, and he never looked back. “Slow growth is way better for us,” he says.
In June 2020, Hans Peter was diagnosed with long COVID and heart failure. With the help of medication, a low salt diet and exercise, he was able to get his heart function back to normal by October 2020. In fact, Hans Peter is an avid cyclist and is back to riding his bike on the trail at least 150 to 200 miles a week, Texas summer heat be damned.
“COVID taught me not to burn the candle at both ends,” Hans Peter says. “I can bake with my eyes closed. I’ve been doing it long enough to where it’s not stressful, it’s just hard work. All the changes we’d made to the business by adding dine-in service were extremely stressful. Our business was prospering, and we made good food, but the whole ordeal made me realize that I couldn’t continue working that way.”
Last year, Swiss Pastry Shop’s black forest cake went viral on TikTok.
The now famous cake is an almond dacquoise, or a crispy, chewy meringue
cake with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
The cake is naturally lower in fats and carbohydrates and gluten-free. The TikTok
post was made by a woman reminiscing about a crunchy cake she’d had as a child. The post resulted in 2 million views, 1 million likes, and a lot of overnight inquiries about shipping black forest cake.
“I’d love to ship one day or stock grocery stores with black forest cake, but there’s a lot to consider and it would be very difficult with standard shipping
methods,” Hans Peter says.
The black forest cake, which accounts for 30 percent of the bakery’s profits, has created an underground market in recent years around the holidays.
Swiss Pastry Shop has other plans on the horizon going into its 50th year. Hans
Peter is working toward buying a new oven. This is not a cheap endeavor; it costs around $50,000 for the type of oven the bakery needs to keep up production.
Looking to the future, Hans Peter has a simple method for staying successful.
“We are trying to grow slowly and put the pieces in place to serve the public even better over the next 25 years,” he said, “without losing quality.”