MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – Making something good out of bad is one of Austin Rehrauer’s steadfast beliefs.

“I’m just an optimistic guy,” the Hartman’s Bakery co-owner said.

It would seem easy to be optimistic when your job makes others smile, as he and his wife’s bakery often do when customers walk through the door and set their sights on trays of donuts, cookies, cakes, and other goods.

“We have a lot of favorites, our long johns are favorites, Pershing, and also what we’re known for too is our sugar cookies,” Lisa Persch, the clerk, said.

Buying the bakery in July 2019 “was just a whole new adventure,” co-owner Luisa Rehrauer said.

She explained that she and Austin met while on vacation in college. They stayed at the same hotel in Cancun, Mexico, and their relationship took off and resulted in buying the bakery together after they graduated.

“This place was for sale a few years before we bought it, it was going to close down if no one bought it,” Austin said. “You could see the sadness in the community if no one bought it.”

This is why they received an outpouring of support after a fire broke out in their oven vents last year, burning a wall, destroying the kitchen appliances, and causing water and smoke damage throughout the building at 901 11th St.

It’s also why selling or giving up the business was not going to be an option.

“It was never a question, we never thought it,” Austin said. “It was just how can we fix this and get back open.”

$500,000 in damages total, the bakery reopened in March after seven and a half months of restoration efforts.

“It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s worth it,” Austin said. “That was challenging because everyone wanted answers, and we didn’t even have answers. We put so much time in the last three years. We weren’t bakers before this, we learned so much.”

Then, it was the community who began chipping in to help with the rebuild.

“We did not expect so many people to be here for us,” Luisa said. “Almost everyone was able to help us. And even the little kids were bringing their piggy banks to help us; it was so nice.”

Now, a plaque covered with hundreds of names commemorating the efforts of everyone who pitched in time or money to help the bakery get back on its feet hangs on the side of the building.

“This bakery is very special to us, and everyone in the neighborhood and our customers,” Persch said.