Three years ago when the Ewe family opened a bakery on Buford Highway, they weren’t sure whether Atlanta area diners would like the Asian baked goods the shop offers. “Most of them are lighter than the baked goods you usually find in America. The sweet items are less sweet and there’s less fat,” explained Howie Ewe, one of the owners.
“We already owned this property and we all had experience in the restaurant business, so we decided to take a chance,” he said.
The family needn’t have been concerned; Sweet Hut was an immediate success. The owners report dine-in customers often are unable to find a seat and at times there are long lines, especially on weekends. As a result, they have opened a second location in midtown and have plans to expand the Buford Highway shop and open additional Sweet Huts in Cobb and Gwinett counties.
“Asian people love being able to find authentic baked goods like the ones their mothers used to make,” Howie Ewe said. “That’s our specialty—home-style treats more like what is baked at home than what you usually find in a bakery or restaurant.”
The items are a hit outside the Asian community as well, he added. “We have a very international clientele.
Americans and people from non-Asian countries like them as well. People are very health conscious these days, but they still enjoy sweets. The lighter baked goods are especially appealing to young people.”
Customers come not only from all across the metropolitan Atlanta area, but also from other Georgia cities and from neighboring states. “There’s nothing like this in most of the Southeast,” Howie Ewe said. “People drive from Alabama, Tennessee and other states to shop here.”
His niece Rachel Ewe, who manages the midtown store, said young people like having places to hang out and have snacks while visiting with friends or working on personal computers. “This is an alternative to the coffee shops,” she said, noting that Sweet Hut offers more than 50 tea, milk and fruit drinks in addition to a wide variety of coffee options.”
She said young customers also like the atmosphere. “The chairs are comfortable and the tables are perfect for a computer. The décor and colors are relaxing and inviting.”
The dozens of baked goods at the Buford Highway store are sold in a self-serve cafeteria format. Customers take a tray covered with a sheet of waxed paper then use tongs to place their selections on the tray. At the end of the line, a cashier totals the order which is boxed for the customers.
The most popular items are buns stuffed with sweets such as coconut or fruit or with such savories as barbecued pork or curried chicken. “The Portuguese egg tart is very popular, too. We sell about 800 of those a day,” Howie Ewe said of the cupcake-sized custard baked in a pastry shell.
After expansion of the Buford Highway store is complete, it—like the midtown store—will offer sandwiches, salads and burgers. Many items familiar to Americans are prepared with an Asian influence such as the Bulgogi burger, which is a ground beef patty topped with Bulgogi sauce and vegetables not usually found on American burgers, including cucumbers, baby spinach and pickled carrots.
“We are Malaysian,” Howie Ewe said, “but we offer foods influenced by China, Japan and other Asian countries.” Some, he added, have an American twist, such as the bun laced with hot dog bits and cheese.
The products are baked fresh daily at a central location, using locally sourced ingredients, when they are available, according to Howie Ewe. “We choose our bakers carefully. Even those from outside the family must know Asian baking techniques.”
Family members say they have been approached by several national and international companies that are interested in creating a Sweet Hut franchise. “We’re not ready to do that right now,” Rachel Ewe said. “We may do it at some time in the future, but it’s very important to us to control the quality of our products and we can’t consider franchising until we’re sure that we can do that.”
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