Why did you choose to open your shop in Kirkwood?
I wanted an authentic community bakery where people could get their daily sandwich and coffee, or a luxurious treat to celebrate special occasions.
Kirkwood has that true feeling of community—a place where we could connect with our guests and give back to the people that have supported us since the day we opened.
Some people come every day. Some come for special occasions. Either way, there is a responsibility to give them a great experience.
I'm so flattered that someone would stand in line 20 minutes for a $3.35 croissant. They are investing a lot of time in my product. They are not just coming to get a croissant. They want something they can’t get anywhere else.
It’s a great honor to be part of our guest’s special occasions - anniversaries, holidays, engagements, and birthdays. Special stories and vivid memories often center around food. We get to be silent guests on those occasions with our cakes and macaroons.
I couldn't ask for a better city to start our business.
After five years in business, is your bakery your biggest dream that came true?
My dream came true not just by opening the bakery, but by maintaining our high standards of food and service over the years.
Like everyone with a dream, it has come with a lot of sacrifices and hard work – but dreams don't often come true without those things.
Honestly, it took so much help just to open our doors. I tapped into every resource I had financially and socially. My dad is a carpenter and came out of retirement to help build out the bakery, my brother and I laid the floor, my sister and niece helped as baristas… I even had friends in medical and law professions help out with mopping the floors.
My wife was nine months pregnant with our first child when the bakery was opening. We had so many exceptional moments at one time we could barely handle it. Fantastic things were happening all at once!
I feel truly blessed that family and friends thought enough of me to sacrifice their time and hard work to help make my dream come true. That was amazing and unforgettable.
I'm incredibly lucky to have remarkably talented people work at the bakery. They come up with great ideas to better our business. It's essential to create a culture where they can bring ideas to help us grow. Sometimes their ideas work and sometimes they don't, just like my ideas. It's not a home run every time.
The time, labor thought, testing, and processes are all worthwhile to make the product a fraction of a percent better. Regardless of whether someone notices, I notice, and I'm going to keep working on those fractions of a percent every day.
What makes your bakery decidedly different?
We continually develop new items. There are 40 or 50 products that haven’t even hit the shelf yet. We’re also constantly evolving and thinking about improving products. Products that were on the menu when we opened have been through 30 or 40 evolutions. We are always trying to be better than we were the day before.
Pre-COVID, we had about 120 different menu items on sale every day. That is a lot. To put it in perspective, we offer 10 to 12 varieties of jams that we make in-house.
Everything is made from raw ingredients. We create ingredients that most other bakeries buy in tubs. I have chefs and colleagues that I admire call to ask me how we pull this off. It's intense.
It's hard work and long hours, but it's super rewarding to look out into the lobby and see someone's face light up and watch their "wow" expression – that's it. That's the reason I do everything I do.
What inspires you?
I like the creation and the artistic side of developing food. That’s extremely exciting to me.
Today, I'm inspired by running a business. Not the dollars and sense cents side, but rather thinking about our guests. What do they like? What's the draw? How can we improve? How can we make a better quality of service or products? I'm inspired by that.
We've had customers come from Memphis or New Jersey. I ask them if they are here to visit the Arch or a friend? And they say, "No, we came to St. Louis just to see your bakery." You have no idea how surreal of an experience that is.
What do you want to be known for?
I hope to be known as more than just a chef and more than just a business person.
I try to be the best person I can be and to do what's right. Everything we do is based on integrity. That's especially important to me. I hope it shows in our business.
Many people throughout my life have inspired me to be a good person. Hopefully, I can inspire other people to work hard, pursue their dreams, have integrity, and genuinely care for other people.
I don't want to be famous. That's not even remotely my goal. I'm reluctant about that type of thing; it’s not something I want in life. But I would like to make a difference. I want to make other people happy. That would make me feel I’m living with a sense of purpose.