Fireman Derek’s is a true business success story. The fireman in question, Derek Kaplan, went from cooking dinner at his downtown Miami station for fellow firefighters to parlaying a love of pies and all things sweet into a new career. In 2014, he opened the first Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop & Cafe in the city’s Wynwood neighborhood, and he’s since gone on to open a popular Coconut Grove location, and, last year, a new outpost in Fort Lauderdale.
South Florida patrons keep coming back for Derek’s famous Key lime and salted caramel pies, red velvet cakes, guava cheesecakes, and dozens of other sweet specialties. Many items are available for shipping nationwide via Goldbelly.
Here, in an exclusive Food Republic video shot at the Wynwood flagship, Kaplan shares the Fireman Derek’s story. The transcript follows.
My name is Derek Kaplan and I’m the owner and creator of Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop located in Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’m a self-taught baker. I just always had an interest in food. I mean, my family, we always ate a lot. We’re all big people. And I just always loved being creative. Like I’ve always had a passion for being artistic, creative and, you know, food has been my outlet.
Before I got into baking, I was a typical teenager, you know, played sports, and after college, I decided to become a fireman. And I also loved to cook so I kind of honed my craft at the same time, you know, being a fireman, and also cooking and baking. I started with Key Lime pie. I just continued throughout my adult life, in my early 20s, to teach myself how to make other flavors of pie, other cakes, other cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, pot pies, savory meals at the firehouse. I’ve always really enjoyed feeding people and being creative with food.
What I love about baking is it’s very precise. They say it’s scientific, which it is. I love the math in it, you know, you have to formulate and calculate recipes and the way that certain foods interact, or certain ingredients interact with one another. So I really always enjoyed, you know, kind of doing the experimentation process of it.
Why Key Lime pie? Key Lime pie to me, represents a lot of things South Florida. It’s tropical, it’s sweet, it’s refreshing, you know, just like the temperature and the environment down here. But I genuinely really love it. I love the flavor, the sweetness, the tartness of it, the buttery graham cracker crust, and then a little bit of that fresh whipped cream on top. It’s my favorite pie. It has been since I was a teenager.
Business is something that I also have taught myself to many degrees, and you know, a lot of trial and error, a lot of figuring things out on my own. I’ve never officially gone to a specific, you know, business school or gotten a degree in any type of business. But I think that, you know, one of the things that’s most important is real world experience. It’s a challenge. I mean, you can get a fancy business degree, but that doesn’t teach you, you know, how to be a CEO or president you know, and how to deal with staff, or how to handle problems as they arise. They are the most valuable lessons because that’s what really makes up the flour and sugar, you know, of things.
It took me a long time to build the business and build the recipes and open a store. But you know, you just have to kind of take that leap of faith, which obviously I did. And you know, I get to do something that I really love and that I can grow it at whatever pace that I see fit.
I definitely am always learning and always wanting to make things better. It’s a constant evolution. And I think if you look at business as a constant evolution, you know, you realize it takes more than just saying you went to some school to learn about business. Business evolves just like the world evolves.
What it means to be successful is to be a pillar in the community. Obviously doing something well, and doing something positive, I think that, you know, defines success. I think providing opportunity for others is an important part of being successful. I think realizing that nobody ever built anything of any epic proportion by themselves, I think that’s important. I think you realize that community is important and the people that are helping you are important. I think you also have to have vision, you know, you also have to have an understanding of what growth looks like and what’s attainable, what’s possible. And I think you also have to have the courage to do it as well.
Having the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other is just an important part of everyday life. And especially in business, you know, everybody’s kind of trying to make their own way and if you just stand still and you don’t do anything, you’re not going to go anywhere. You have to continue to push forward every day.