Home, Cooking: Building a community one cupcake at a time
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Annemarie Spitznagle keeps a notebook. She has since she was a kid.
“My mom found lists and notes to myself everywhere,” Spitznagle said of her childhood.
More than a journal or diary, the notebooks have been like close friends, the kind who listen patiently and reserve judgment. The contents of Spitznagle’s notebooks have changed as she’s grown up and her interests have evolved. But through it all, two themes have remained constant: home and cooking.
Spitznagle, the daughter of an Air Force pilot, was born in Japan but raised in Louisiana. It was in Louisiana Spitznagle’s identity took hold in her family’s Cajun culture. Central to her family’s way of life was food. In a Cajun home, the kitchen is court and food is king.
“I’d come home from school, drop off my backpack and join my mom in the kitchen,” Spitznagle said.
Meals took hours to prepare and almost as long to enjoy with one another. Spitznagle was in charge of desserts.
Spitznagle remembers making desserts for her family, and in particular enjoyed experimenting with new creations, “I was doing Coldstone [Creamery] years before it existed, folding candies and treats into ice cream on our kitchen counter.”
Even after she left home, during college and into her adult life, Spitznagle was the one making desserts for parties, work functions, and family gatherings. “I was the dessert lady,” she said.
In 2006 Spitznagle moved with her husband and kids to Wisconsin. The move coincided with a personal transformation in her views toward food.
“I began reading and learning about local, organic, and sustainable food,” Spitznagle said. In her kitchen, meals took on a local feel with seasonal flavors dictated by the contents of that week’s CSA delivery.
Cooking healthy, organic meals for her family was satisfying. And were it not for an evening in the fall of 2008 Spitznagle’s cooking story might have remained there.
Spitznagle and her husband sat on their back porch visiting with friends in town for the weekend. Her friend gave her a present to open, a gift she knew Spitznagle would like. It was a cupcake cookbook. And Spitznagle loved it.
As the couples talked and laughed Spitznagle flipped through the pages of her new cookbook and felt something stir deep inside her.
Food had always been important to Spitznagle, she had toyed with the idea of opening a Creole restaurant, but something about that book took hold of her. She went to bed and woke up very early the next morning.
Over breakfast Spitznagle shared her dream for the first time. She wanted to start her own bakery.
Not one to casually commit to anything, Spitznagle’s husband knew she was serious and sincere. He suggested she begin with a business plan.
Over the next year and half Spitznagle put together her business plan. She enrolled in university courses for aspiring entrepreneurs and shadowed bakers to learn techniques she would need. All the while she worked on her cupcakes. The vanilla cupcake in particular took more than a year to perfect.
“The kids would come down in the morning before school and I’d have dissected cupcakes on plates for them to try,” Spitznagle recalls. She sought input and feedback from everyone she could. But in the end kids were the most helpful. “Kids don’t lie.”
Armed with a professor-approved business plan, Spitznagle’s brother-in-law, a commercial real estate agent, helped her find the historic space, on Parmenter and Elmwood, in Middleton’s downtown. The location was, “perfect.” A building with floor to ceiling windows and exposed brick, it was a throwback to a different time, a time that resonated with Spitznagle.
The rise in mainstream popularity of sustainable, organic, and local food initiatives is a relatively recent phenomenon. However these initiatives, as is often the case, are not so much new ideas as they are old ideas refashioned for a contemporary society.
Spitznagle’s reclamation of an historic building for a locally-sourced bakery is symbolic of her desire to capture the enduring community of her family’s Louisiana kitchen and recreate it in Bloom Bake Shop. Spitznagle believes a small-batch bakery, using local and organic ingredients, is the right way to make great baked goods.
She’s not alone.
In two and half years since opening, Bloom Bake Shop Spitznagle has extended days and hours of operation, hired six employees (four full-time), and added on to the kitchen to keep pace with rising demand. Business is very good.
Aided by her staff, Spitznagle increasingly spends her time creating new recipes and running the business operations. Nowadays, her notebooks are filled with new recipe ideas and business concepts.
In a business so closely resembling her own values and identity, it’s appropriate Bloom’s plans reside in Spitznagle’s notebook.
Spitznagle doesn’t share her notebook with anyone but, thankfully for Middleton area residents, she’s decided to share her cupcakes.