Expanding again: Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins opens Tuesday

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Jenny Oaks, owner of Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro, decorates a four-layer vegan Oreo cake at her business in Collins.

When Jenny Oaks started baking and decorating custom cakes from her small bakery in Collins, she didn’t realize how quickly her business would grow. The latest expansion adds a sit-down bistro and is scheduled to open June 1.

The custom bakery, which began in January 2020, expanded in November 2020 to include a selection of convenient meals. On Tuesday, the business is growing to include the building next door as the eatery becomes Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl. It seems so surreal now that it’s actually happening,” Oaks said.

A large table at Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro has pressed wildflowers incorporated into the top. The new bistro in Collins opens June 1.

Jenny’s husband, Jake, is in the culinary industry too, so “hopefully down the road, I can take care of my pastries and cakes and things, and he can take care of the food.”

Oaks recently purchased the building attached to her bakeshop, which was originally a convenience store and more recently a bar. They created a door in the interior wall attaching the two buildings, and the former bakery space will be her enlarged kitchen. The main exterior door will take customers into the new bistro area, where they can sit and have a meal or a treat.

Baked goods will be displayed in cases in that room too.

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Oaks plans to open the bistro June 1, but she noted that construction delays could cause that date to be pushed back. Check the Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro Facebook page for updates on opening details.

“We’ll have burgers and chicken wraps,” Oaks said. “I have a chicken bacon sandwich that's very popular. A Philly cheesesteak. There's a turkey bacon avocado wrap that’s going to be going on the menu.

“We’ll have salads, soups and sandwiches. We make all of our own breads. We've got cinnamon rolls. I'll have a display counter to put my desserts and bread so that people can buy them.”

The bistro area of Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins was still under construction May 21, but the space was coming together well under the expertise of Jason Couser (not pictured). Two pillars in the middle of the room are being used as supports for a big table, which will offer outlets for people who need to plug in a device. The bistro space was originally a convenience store and more recently a bar.

It’s a lot of fresh — not fried — food, she said. “I don’t even have a fryer.”

Oaks gets ground beef from Vaughn Farms, which is located in rural Maxwell. “The beef makes amazing burgers,” she said.

She gets sausage from Golly’s Locker in Maxwell. “I make my sausage gravy for biscuits and gravy from that,” Oaks said.

And Oaks plans to have homemade ice cream from Frozen in Time, a new local food truck.

“I have a creamy tomato soup that people love, a baked potato soup, a cheesy potato soup,” she said. “I don’t even use recipes. I just come up with something and make it.

Rainbow cupcakes are among the many baked items in the cooler at Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins.

“I’ll have chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes — lots of cupcakes. I’ll be putting some new flavors on there, and we’ll have our Mississippi mud and raspberry almond.”

Mississippi mud is a chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting, chocolate ganache, Oreos and marshmallows on top. Raspberry almond, a white-almond cake with an almond buttercream and raspberry preserves, is “by far the most popular cupcake we have,” she said.

Oaks is going to take fewer custom cake orders but will still have cakes and cupcakes in the cases, available for purchase.

The bistro side of the building has been updated on nearly every surface. Two big metal pillars in the middle of the room have been converted into a bar-height study table with electrical outlets available to charge devices.

Pressed wildflowers have been incorporated into some of the design, including the study table. The flowers were collected by Welch’s grandmother, Betty Eckroad of Ames. “It was really awesome to be able to use those flowers in things like the top of our study table,” Oaks said.

Pressed wildflowers that were gathered by Sweet Oaks employee Marissa Welch's grandmother Betty Eckroad are being used in the interior design of Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins.

How Jenny Oaks’ business grew

“I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was 14,” Oaks said. “I’ve been doing it for about 13 years now, so I’ve pretty much always been working in a kitchen.”

Now 27, Oaks took about two years off and was a stay-at-home mom to her two kids, Owen, now 4, and Lillie, now 3.

“I felt like I kind of lost myself and wanted to get back into it,” she said. “This building for the bakery became available, so I was like: You know what? Let’s just go for it and see what happens.”

In January 2020, she opened Sweet Oaks Bakeshoppe at 601 First Ave. in Collins.

It started as more of a hobby than a business. She loved baking and decorating custom cakes and cupcakes. Her kids could come along to her building — a former car wash —  and she created a little play area for them at the front of the bakery.

“It didn't take very long for that to become overwhelming,” Oaks said. “I started getting busier and busier, and then COVID hit.”

A lot of Oaks’ custom cake orders dropped off because people weren’t having parties. But then something happened, she said, and people started ordering small cakes and cupcakes like crazy. It got to the point where she couldn’t keep up with the orders on her own.

She brought on two of her friends as employees, Darcey Kellogg and Marissa Welch, both of Collins.

Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro owner Jenny Oaks, center, poses with her friends, who are also on her staff, Darcey Kellogg, left, and Marissa Welch.

Around that same time, Maxwell Market in the Park reached out to see if Oaks would like to participate in that farmers’ market — a market that grew quickly and became a popular draw with large attendance and dozens of vendors.

“I think a lot of vendors just wanted some normalcy in their lives during Covid,” she said. “And I think it was a good thing to draw people to small towns too.”

Oaks started at the first Maxwell Market last year and went every Sunday last year.

“That really helped get my business out there,” she said. “Since then, my business has really skyrocketed.”

It wasn’t long before customers started asking for meals as well as baked goods.

Again Oaks said: Let’s go for it.

Darcey Kellogg makes a Philly cheesesteak on homemade bread at Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro in Collins.

In November 2020, She added convenient menu items — custom sandwiches made fresh on homemade bread and buns, breakfast items in the warmer for grab-and-go, take-and-bake meals in the cooler. And the cakes and cupcakes continued to be popular items.

“It's been absolutely crazy to watch it turn into something a lot bigger than I ever thought it would be,” Oaks said.

As her business grew, she was able to use the revenue to buy new equipment for her kitchen. “Everything in here is stuff that I've worked to pay for and my business has supplied its own growth,” Oaks said, looking around her kitchen.

Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro, 601 First Ave. in Collins, will be open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

“It’s possible that down the road we might add Sundays for breakfast and lunch, and it’s possible that we’ll do Friday and Saturday night dinner,” Oaks said. “But we’ll just have to see how everything goes.”