When you meet Eric Wheeler, you will remember him from that day forward. My friends and I are frequent fliers at his shop “Wheeler’s Bagels” and the food is as wonderful as the service. This sort of success in food service does not come by accident. Eric comes from a family tradition that helped lead him to the Tri-Cities as well as into law enforcement and entrepreneurship. Read up on Eric and then go get yourself something delicious!
BRIAN: First of all, thank you for taking time to talk with me. We always start at the beginning, so let’s talk about what growing up was like for you and where you grew up. Can you make sure to share about your dad cornering the law enforcement doughnut market?
ERIC: I was born in a small town in upstate New York called Horseheads. My dad (Gary Wheeler) was on the Horseheads Police Department. When I was 9 months, old we moved to Ocala, Florida and Dad went on the Ocala P.D. In 1971, Dad wanted to go into business and he left the P.D. We moved to Vero Beach, Florida and opened our first donut shop Tayst-O-Donuts. It was a small store, only about 450 square feet. Mon and Dad built the business into three locations, and we had the first drive-through window in Vero. We had the shops for 35 years, and they are still going strong. The family we sold the shops to is running everything just like we did. We hand cut our donuts and did everything from scratch, just like we do at Wheeler’s Bagels now.
Just a little side story – Dad got into politics and ran for County Commission and served two terms. He then ran for Sherriff and served two terms as the Sherriff for Indian River County, about a 500-person agency. It was the big joke in town for years because when Dad was Sheriff, he also owned all the donut shops in Indian River County.
I got to grow up in a great small town working in the family business. We had lots for friends and family around. I don’t think I could have had a better time growing up.
BRIAN: You have obviously lived plenty of other places and seen a lot in your life. What is it about this region and the people here that make you continue to want to call this region home?
ERIC: I was talking to customers the other day and telling them how much we love it here. I think I shocked them a little when I told them I feel bad for people who have lived here all of their lives. The look he gave me was funny, and then I said, “If you have never lived anywhere else, you can’t really appreciate how good it is here.” To them, this is just how it is. This is a real community of people that treat everyone like neighbors – not strangers. I have never come into a community and been made to feel so welcome.
BRIAN: When we talk about the values that make this area truly unique, our focus on the importance of family is central to that. How important is your family and how do you keep that focus while doing the daily work of running a business?
ERIC: Family and Faith have always been at the core of everything I do. I went to Tabernacle Baptist School for Kindergarten through 8th grade and then went to public school. Just like everyone else, I have had hard times, but it has always been family and my relationship with God that keeps me going. When I was 24, I was diagnosed with type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes. Now I’m a big guy. I’m 6’2” and about 250 pounds. When I was first diagnosed, I went down to 136 pounds and was very sick. I spent about a week in the hospital and my pastor (David Foster) came to visit me and talk to me about how I was doing and how my faith in God was doing.
He was concerned that I would be angry with God. I told him that even though I was sick and weak, I never felt like God had abandoned me or that I lost my faith. I told him what I am going through is nothing compared to what Job when through, and I had my family with me, my Mom ( Donna Wheeler ) and my Dad (Gary Wheeler) and they are amazing parents. They were there with me through everything. I have found that when I have problems and no matter what I do I can’t figure out how to solve the issue, I have to surrender the problem and put it into God’s hands and every time, without fail, it works out so much better than anything I could have come up with.
BRIAN: And now for the grand finale, I want to make a statement once again. For those who have not parted the doors of Wheeler’s bagels, they are missing out. Here is your chance to share. What are the latest and greatest offerings at Wheeler’s and how can people stay up to date with what is going on?
ERIC: I love making food for people and when we opened Wheeler’s Bagels, we wanted a place where people could come and meet with friends and have good food. We make everything from scratch. I even make my bagel bases from scratch. I mix my own salts and sugars and malts. I get my flour from an artisan mill out of California because it is non-bleached and non-bromide. It’s all naturally aged. We crack eggs and build our batters up from scratch for our muffins and cookies, and we use Boars Head meats and cheeses.