When students call for a late-night police escort, they might not expect a sales pitch with their ride.
But if the driver is Fred Stewart, they might get one.
And they might return to their residence halls with a business card for “Fred’s Sweet Express, a small place with a big taste.”
In his four years working as a late-night security officer for the TCU Police, Stewart has chatted with many students and co-workers about his baking business. He said he especially likes to make his homemade desserts for students who cannot go home for holidays or other occasions.
By the end of the upcoming holiday season, Stewart said he hopes to take his kitchen to the streets. He plans to purchase a food truck and start a mobile bakery in Fort Worth.
Keeping the name Fred’s Sweet Express, Stewart will offer treats such as cheesecake, pie and cobbler at various locations around town.
Stewart said he plans to run the truck only on weekends because his weekdays are too busy. Unmarried and just shy of retirement age, he works two full-time jobs while also running a bakery known for what one coworker said was “the best New York-style cheesecake” she’s ever had.
Stewart begins his days at 8 p.m. He arrives at the TCU Police Department and patrols campus on a golf cart until 4 a.m. By 6:30 a.m., he arrives at Fort Worth Country Day School (FWCD), where he works as a member of the maintenance staff until his day ends at 2:30 p.m. By 8 p.m., he is back at TCU.
It is hard to comprehend how sleep fits into his schedule. An 80-hour work week plus baking sounds like a recipe for a grouchy, yawning old man.
But you won’t find that in Stewart, one of his Country Day co-workers said.
Lisa Wallace, the newspaper and yearbook adviser at the kindergarten through 12th-grade school, said she has never once seen Stewart in a bad mood in her 14 years of working with him.
“No matter how stressed he might be or the kids might be with their schedules, he gives them a hug and pats them on the back,” Wallace said. “He knows everybody’s name.”
He also bakes for them. Stewart said he prepares 150 servings of cheesecake for the school’s Senior Day every spring. Last year during the Christmas season, he delivered 900 pies FWCD parents had ordered as gifts.
Somehow, Stewart even makes time to attend the school’s athletic events.
“He goes to our sports games, decked out in Country Day gear,” Wallace said. “He knows that the students work very hard at their academics, so he enjoys being able to cheer them on, on the court or on the field, for how hard they’re working in the classroom.”
They might not know how hard Stewart is working as well. He describes himself as “low key,” doing his work but not sharing many details about his personal life.
Cheryl Haston, a 2013 graduate of FWCD and first-year neuroscience major at TCU, said she had no idea that “Mr. Fred” liked to bake and had made the cheesecakes for Senior Day.
Shelby Roberts, a 2012 graduate of FWCD and sophomore journalism and film, television and digital media double major at TCU, learned about Stewart’s busy life long after meeting him. Roberts said she knew Stewart for all of her 13 years at Country Day, but that it was not until she decided to attend TCU that he told her about working the night shift on campus.
“He gave me his phone number at the end of the school year and said, ‘If you ever need anything at TCU, let me know. You can call me for anything,’” Roberts said. “I see him around campus all the time, and it’s just nice seeing a familiar face of someone who cares so much.”
And he cares about baking. In fact, his carefulness is what makes his desserts taste so good. He said the ingredients have to be mixed exactly right, because baked goods can’t be fixed with a little salt and pepper.
Becoming a good baker also requires a good teacher, he said.
Stewart did not intend to become a baker, nor an especially good one; it just kind of fell on his plate.
While a student at Fort Worth’s Dunbar High School, Stewart began working as a dishwasher at a restaurant called Wyatt’s Cafeteria. He said he worked so quickly during his first day on the job that he would be standing and waiting for more dirty dishes to come his way. By the end of that first day, he was placed in charge of the bakery while “Mama Gwen,” the cafeteria’s baker, left town for three weeks.
With a stern warning from Mama Gwen to keep her bakery in order, Stewart’s carefulness in the kitchen began. He continued to work with Mama Gwen for three years.
During and after high school, Stewart also held jobs in car upholstery and worked as a busboy at Fort Worth’s former Old Swiss House restaurant. He played 10 years of semi-pro football with the Fort Worth Renegades and the Arlington Drillers.
As a child, Stewart said he dreamed of playing professional football. For many years now, he has dreamed of opening a bakery, not just baking out of his house.
For now, he is planning a mobile bakery. Eventually, he said he would like to purchase a permanent space and open a restaurant.
Wallace, who has heard him talk about his dream for many years, said she supports his plan.
“I’ve always given him a hard time, telling him to quit working here and start your baking business, have some normal hours and a social life,” Wallace said.
David Coriano, a TCU Police dispatcher, said he supports Stewart as well.
“He’s a hard-working guy, working two jobs while trying to get his business started. He’s very ambitious, and I hope he gets his business off the ground,” Coriano said. “I told him I’ll be his customer all the time.”
By the start of 2014, Fred’s Sweet Express may be the newest addition to the food truck trend. But Stewart said you can never be sure what tomorrow will bring.
Let’s hope it’s cheesecake.