Tucked in downtown Sherwood, pastry shop the Hungry Hero is one of the suburb’s gems. The smell of sugar lingers outside the shop, a preview of the desserts owner Alex Wilson bakes, frosts, and swirls within the rainbow-walled cafe. The baked goods, which are also often adorned with rainbow sprinkles and sporting cheeky names such as the Gay Bar and Sugar Daddy, are not presented on trays like precious artifacts, but piled on top of each other, giving the illusion of an endless supply with the casual charm of an after-school snack.
Wilson, an alumni of the now-closed Oregon Culinary Institute, spent years in Portland kitchens like Peruvian destination Andina and quintessential cake stop Papa Haydn before opening the Hungry Hero’s first bakery space in 2015. When the pandemic first began to spread in Oregon, Wilson wasn’t sure what would happen to his business; a year-and-a-half later, he’s working on expanding his Sherwood shop, basking in the glow of his recent win on Netflix baking competition show Sugar Rush: Christmas, and preparing to open his second location in the Pearl District this fall.
The Pearl location will be a collaboration with Broobee Cafe, owned by Gagan Singh, who was a long-time Hungry Hero customer. Singh approached Wilson in early 2020 with the idea of opening a cafe together: Hungry Hero would handle the desserts, and Singh would provide the coffee, specifically via a coffee robot nicknamed “Billie.” Broobee will offer a wide array of espresso drinks, as well as masala chai.
The new location will be a similar setup to Hungry Hero’s Sherwood bakery, retaining the “kid in a candy shop” aesthetic and some of Wilson’s long-treasured treats. Many of Wilson’s treats are meant to evoke the nostalgia of home baking: for example, the Debbie Bar is a twist on the seven layer bar finished with candied potato chips, and the Gooey Butter Bar is Wilson’s take on the St. Louis staple, not often spotted in West Coast bakeries. The bakery will also offer desserts from outside the American canon, like fluffy Basque cheesecake.
Wilson hopes the new location, steps from Powell’s, will help the Hungry hero “get on the map,” in his words. “(We want to) let people know we’re here. Let’s bring our business (here) to support the community, give money back, help local people, raise awareness,” he says. “The Pearl is going to be an extension of that, getting our feet wet in a different climate or area.”
Humanitarian causes have always been a part of Wilson’s business plan: before he opened his cafe, he would donate desserts to organizations like Our House and Basic Rights Oregon. Years later, he still uses the bakery’s instagram page not only to show off the shop’s desserts but to advocate for the queer community, fundraise for local organizations such as the Q Center and the Cascade AIDS Project, and celebrate other Sherwood businesses. “People have told me to shut up and bake...but especially because we’re a business, we have to say something,” he says.
Wilson has no plans to leave his hometown or close Sherwood shop. “It’s my home,” he says. “I love it.” However, by the end of September, Portlanders won’t have to hit 99W for Gooey Butter Bars.
The Hungry Hero is located at 22567 SW Washington Street in Sherwood, Oregon. The Broobee Cafe/Hungry Hero collaboration will be located at 433 NW 10th Ave in Portland, and is slated to open mid-September.