UPDATE: Fan Ben's is no longer operating this bakery window.
A baker’s life is that of an early riser. “Fat Ben” Arington’s alarm goes off at 2:45 a.m., long before the rest of us start hitting our snooze buttons. Shortly after, he’s out the door to head downtown from his home in Mason. Once at work, on go the lights, followed by the ovens and it’s time to get to work.
You’d think that after hours of baking he’d be bound to lose some momentum, but further into the morning he’s still energetic as ever. At 7 a.m., he’s open for business. Leaning out of the Fat Ben’s Bakery window at the newly-opened Crown Republic Gastropub at Sycamore and East Eighth streets in Over-the-Rhine, the pastry chef smiles with that contagious, morning-person kind of smile that leaves you in a good mood for the rest of the day — a mood that only gets better once you have one of his freshly-baked goodies in hand.
Crown Republic Gastropub opened Wednesday, but Arington’s bakery window has been in operation since Monday. Fat Ben’s Bakery is licensed as a home bakery, so before setting up shop downtown, he’d been baking from his home in Mason and selling wholesale to local spots like Landlocked Social House in Walnut Hills and Brick Coffee Co. in Norwood, as well as filling private orders for everything from cakes to edible cookie dough and s’mores by the dozen. He’s especially known for his pastry pockets — think Pop Tarts — with flavors like strawberry cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter fudge.
The move to a brick-and-mortar shop was a natural progression for Arington. Haley Nutter-Sitek, who is the managing partner at Crown Republic and is married to co-owner and chef Anthony Sitek, happens to be his best friend. Arington would frequently come ‘round to the Siteks' place for Sunday family dinners. Haley would cook dinner and Arington would supply dessert, bringing things like cakes and chocolate chip cookie brittle.
“My mom taught me to never show up empty handed,” he says.
Mom’s advice sure did pay off. When Arington’s friends decided to open a restaurant with Mike Casari, they asked him to come aboard as the pastry chef. It was a perfect fit.
“I think once they knew how well I was really doing just out of my little kitchen they thought, 'I wonder what he can do with a whole window?'," Arington says. “So now I have a window.”
When you do visit Fat Ben’s Bakery, try your best not to leave grease marks from pressing your nose up against the glass, despite the strong gravitational pull bringing you closer and closer to the treats on the other side of the window. Arington’s got an arsenal of sweet stuff sure to send you into a sugar coma.
There’s a cookies-and-cream flavored cookie that’s big enough to share (although you won’t want to), the ever-popular pastry pockets (get the raspberry PB&J for a delicious twist on a childhood classic) and scones galore (the birthday cake flavor with pink icing and funfetti batter is already a big fan favorite, as well as Arington’s personal obsession). Vegan and gluten-free pastry options are in the rotation, too, including vegan sticky buns that even omnivores can appreciate.
He doesn’t skimp on savory goodness, either. There’s a scone baked with perfect, bite-sized bits of bacon and a bacon, cheddar and sage breakfast biscuit that looks worth fighting over — Arington would recommend going early if you want to snag one of those bad boys before they sell out.
His seemingly humble little window is keeping Arington plenty busy. As for any home bakery orders at this point? “That’s just a bonus,” he says.
For now, he’s enjoying the day-to-day of his new gig. Once the bakery window closes at 11 a.m., he gets to work on treats that will be served to lucky lunch and dinner customers at Crown Republic later in the day. The dessert menu is just as impressive as his morning pastry selections, too — Arington’s favorites are the coconut-lime pistachio cake and the s’more brownie sundae with toasted marshmallow and beer caramel. Bringing his talents out of his home kitchen returning to a “real” kitchen, as he puts it, was a welcomed change.
“I’m obsessed with the amount of space I have now," he says. "Also, funny thing, I really love how when I have like three dirty bowls on my counter it doesn’t feel like my kitchen looks like an absolute disaster like it felt in my home.”
Arington’s passion has now blossomed into business in more ways than one, and not without notice.
“I’m just so appreciative of how Cincinnati has taken to my little business,” he says. “I actually had a customer come up to the window and say that she was my biggest fan and has been following me for years now. I asked her what it is about me that makes me so special, or cause her to 'fan girl out,' as she put it. She looked at me and smiled and just claimed that it was everything I was, from who I am as a person to how I run my Instagram to how I just bring happiness through food to others. I actually had to ask her to leave so I wouldn’t cry in front of her.”
Fat Ben's Bakery window is located at 720 Sycamore St., Downtown and open 7-11 a.m. for grab-and-go Monday-Friday. For more info on Fat Ben, visit fatbensbakery.com. For more info on Crown Republic, visit facebook.com/crownrepublicgastropub.