MIDWAY – Bakers may spend their days making sweets, but that doesn’t mean they always have sugary dispositions themselves.
In fact, they’re often quiet, introverted types who are content to see satisfied smiles from behind the baker’s bowl.
So, it’s a whole new recipe for the crew at Midway School Bakery, the latest addition to Chef Ouita Michel’s family of restaurants.
The beloved Kentucky chef has pulled the bakers from all her restaurants into a big, open bakery, where guests can watch them make pies, brownies, cookies, breads and doughnuts from scratch.
They’re led by pastry chef Carrie Warmbier, who admits she’s a bit shy herself and slowly warming up to the idea that she heads a community-based bakery.
“People are looking at you the whole time, so that’s new, but we’re learning to work together, we’ve got music going, and they’re really starting to meld,” she says of her team of six bakers from Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station Deli and Bakery and Windy Corner Market.
Warmbier compares her new kitchen to “a happy, little bubble.”
Michel says she believes in her bakers, and Midway School Bakery is a product of their talents.
“I had hired all these bakers, and they were all working in separate locations where we make everything from scratch, and bakers have minds of their own, so each location started doing things differently,” Michel said.
She encourages ingenuity and creativity but won’t bend on her devotion to making everything by hand with local ingredients.
“When I found out one property was using a mix, I was like, ‘OK, that’s it!’”
Not in Michel’s kitchen. The bakery website touts that everything is made from real ingredients.
“Our flours come from Weisenberger Mill down the road; most of the corn and wheat is raised right here in Kentucky. Our chocolate and cocoa powder comes from Ruth Hunt Candies in Mount Sterling. Our pecans are from the Kentucky Nut Corp. in Hickman, Ky.”
Frankfort, Michel adds, is the number one supplier of produce to her restaurants and bakery. Vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers for tabletops come from the Franklin County Farmers Market. Since opening last month, the bakery has used 30 gallons of local blackberries for pies and other baked goods.
Midway School Bakery is housed in the cafeteria of former Midway High School, built on South Winter Street in 1924, which has been renovated into senior apartments.
“This space needed to be brought back to life,” Michel says. “When I saw the interior, I just went crazy for it.”
Light streams into the kitchen and dining area through several windows, and they’ve kept the tile walls and Travertine marble floors. Scenes from the school’s past decorate the space.
Michel, taking a break from a morning of baking, spoke with The State Journal in her favorite spot, a large back patio with chairs overlooking a lawn that sweeps down to a playground and ball field.
“The first weekend, we had 20 kids rolling down the hill,” Michel said.
Some guests have already made the bakery part of their morning routine, grabbing coffee and breakfast or picking up a box for the office, Warmbier says. Former teachers and students from the school have stopped by, and a few residents from the retirement community have ventured over. Several Frankfort residents are making the 20-minute drive as well.
Desserts, pies and doughnuts have been popular with guests, but the bakers are more into the savory side of the menu. If you ask, they’ll suggest the country ham, chive and cheddar scone or a chewy bagel with scallion cream cheese.
Several menu items are named after the baker who created them. Warmbier claims Carrie’s Ciabatta, Carrie’s Chewy Handmade Bagel and Carrie’s Extra Fudgy Brown Butter Brownie.
The menu is sure to change with input from the community, Michel says, adding that if you have a favorite not on the menu, drop the recipe off, and the bakers will give it a try. Some community members have already suggested old Midway favorites like sourdough coffee cake that’s about to make it to the menu.
“That’s what this place is all about,” Michel says. “You open an authentic space and before long it becomes a perfect expression of the community.”
Midway School Bakery
Location: 510 South Winter St., Midway