Forty-two years. That’s how long Bernice’s Bakery has been providing the Missoula community with scrumptious baked goods. It’s not just the decadent cakes, savory breads, and sweet pies that entice customers to walk through the doors. This community staple also provides a welcoming place for locals to chat with good friends over a steaming espresso and buttery croissant.
Missy Kelleher became the latest owner of Bernice’s on June 1, 2017 after purchasing the bakery from Christine and Marco Littig. Missy had previously worked for Christine in the restaurant industry and they continued a friend and mentor relationship. When Missy began to get serious about her dream of owning her own business she reached out to Christine for advice.
“She asked if I wanted to buy a bakery,” said Missy.
Bernice’s first opened its doors in 1978 with Becky Bolinger as the original owner who sold only chocolate chip cookies, bread, and bagels. When asked about the origination of the name “Bernice’s” Missy says there are a few fables floating around but she leans toward the story that Bernice was Becky’s aunt.
Since Missy bought the bakery, she tries to impress upon employees that they all represent Bernice’s. Once in a staff meeting she started the motto, We are all Bernice’s. Then, when a customer came through and inquired which one of the staff is Bernice, each member of the counter staff said, in unison, “We all are!”
“And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they were listening,’” said Missy.
Missy said that staffing takes a lot of energy but she is quick to add that she has a great group working for her.
“I feel like we’ve gotten really lucky in terms of finding people that believe in what they’re doing and [they bring] enthusiasm,” said Missy.
One of those people is Cake Manager Shelbie White.
Shelbie said, “One of the main reasons I love working for Bernice's is the community aspect. Once you start working here you get to know more regulars and you start to build friendships with people and you start to care. Another reason is Bernice’s is one big family. As soon as you start, you grow friendships that will last forever.”
Missy strives to return the support Bernice’s receives from the local community by supporting local businesses and vendors. The list of local products featured at Bernice’s is as big as a batch of their famous chocolate chips cookies.
Wustner Brothers’ honey is used in drinks and the Bee’s Knees bar. Topp Company supplies cheese, butter, and yogurt. Kalispell Kreamery’s milk is used in all drinks that require it.
“I didn’t know how good a simple latte could be until I had one at the bakery using their milk,” said Missy. The signature ingredient in the lavender cupcakes comes from Lavender Lori. Bakery & Restaurant Foods, Inc. provides baking essentials. One of their biggest purchases is made at Hunter Bay Coffee for their regular coffee, decaf, and espresso, and Black Coffee Roasting Company supplies a decaf espresso.
Out of all the sweet treats, coffee, salads, and breads, Missy speculates that cupcakes and sugar cookies are probably the top selling items.
“Cupcakes are still a thing in Missoula,” said Missy, despite a waning popularity nationwide. It’s not hard to taste why when you bite into a devil’s food cupcake with Ding Dong filling or a white wine cupcake with buttercream frosting. The sugar cookies would be perfect if left alone but it’s the butter used in the frosting that makes them special.
During COVID-19, the bakery has received a huge outpour of support from the local community and from people that discovered Bernice’s on a trip to Missoula. Year after year, the regular customers best represent the special place that Bernice’s holds in the Missoula community. Missy tells the story of one of these patrons who lives a few doors down from the bakery. He is such a regular that a house account was started for him.
Missy said, “When we decided during COVID-19 that we would take credit cards only, other regulars were concerned for this gentleman because they knew he doesn’t have a credit card. Without us even thinking about having to load his account, his comrades have been doing it for him.”
“Every day there is something special that happens at Bernice’s,” said Missy. “You just have to stop and take it in and recognize it. So many memories have been created here in the last 40 years and we’re going to do everything we can to keep her going for another 40 years and beyond.”