Whether it’s to bring a pie to someone’s house for a holiday or just to stop in for a slice of something sweet, a visit to Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop is a tradition for Miamians. But for those in Fort Lauderdale, it’s a whole new experience. That’s because after nine years of impressing the Miami-Dade market with signature sweet and savory pastries, Derek Kaplan has debuted his eponymous brand this past November on North Federal Highway between Victoria Park and Flagler Village.
Or call it a tradition-in-the-making. Kaplan says he’s already seen customers back 5-6 times, while others are still finding out about it. Regardless of whether it’s your first time in or your seventh, though, make no mistake, Kaplan and his team are thrilled to serve you in the 1,500-square-foot store.
“This is definitely a market I wanted to explore,” the Boynton-born Kaplan says about the area. “Each store I open, I learn more about the business and the customer base. I pay attention to that.”
That means, while he has two other stores, his first in Wynwood and his second, larger location in Coconut Grove, you will see the baker on site. He might be perfecting pot pies, empanadas, and cookies in the state-of-the-art kitchen in back or checking on the quality of the pies and cakes, made daily at his Little Haiti facility and perched in viewer-friendly display cases. Maybe he’ll be making small tweaks to the seating design so that customers have the best possible experience. Or he could be training new staff on how to make milkshakes from his hand-churned ice cream, which he learned how to perfect at Penn State University’s Ice Cream School, graduating in 2020.
“Ice cream was an obvious natural fit,” he says about adding frozen treats to his lineup. Customers can easily add a scoop to a slice of pie or cheesecake. But you can also get the entire Derek’s Bake Shop experience in a scoop or milkshake all on its own, because Kaplan uses his own pastries to crumble into the custard base. “The Oreo cheesecake flavor uses our own Oreo cheesecake,” he says. “The birthday cake ice cream is our actual birthday cake. And the guava cookies and cream—this is its own authentic flavor.”
Derek’s Bake Shop is known for its key lime pie, which Kaplan started making at age 15 and again, later on, while working for the Islamorada and City of Miami fire departments. Only a few years after he started putting out blazes, he created his own conflagration when he incorporated his business in 2008 and started selling locally to chefs. Soon he’d expanded into a food truck, and by July 2014 he’d opened his first brick-and-mortar location in Wynwood. By 2016, demand had grown to the point where he had to choose: fireman or baker.
In 2019, Kaplan opened the Coconut Grove store, which offered more seating than the narrow Wynwood shop, and by 2021, he’d moved his Wynwood store to a larger, more appealing location a few blocks away. He also became a first-time father to a son.
Despite his already impressive and current commitments, Kaplan would consider future opportunities for local expansion, but only under the right circumstances. “It would be hard for me to sign on another lease without knowing I have the capabilities. What I’m looking for right now is another production kitchen. It’s difficult to find because I need along the lines of 20-30,000 square feet and every place, you’d have to do the build-out,” he says.
As for something even bigger—national or packaged products—he could see that happening, too. Eventually. And only with what he calls “the right strategic partner.” Because at the end of the day, he says, “It’s just me. I oversee production and I really care about how the stores perform and about the customer experience.” firemandereks.com
By Jen Karetnick. Photos by Jason Nuttle.