Kalamazoo's bakeries are the frosting on the cake
Maria Brennan joked to her husband that she had thought of a name for the bakery she wanted to open: "The Tart Kitchen." He gasped, "no!" and she laughed. Instead the name became The Victorian Bakery, for the Victorian-style house they lived in. It was in the basement of that Victorian house that Brennan first started to bake her breads, cakes, pies, scones, croissants, and yes, tarts, for sale.
Today, The Victorian Bakery has its own fragrant space, in one-half of the building at 116 W. Crosstown Parkway, shared with Confections with Convictions. Brennan moved her bakery there in December 2010, but continues to sell her goods in Kalamazoo Bank Street and Texas Township farmers markets and in the organic food shops that gave her business its start.
"Sawall's Health Foods was the first to sell my bread," Brennan said. "I wouldn't be in business today if it weren't for Sawall's. I counted. They sell more than 50 products from local merchants."
Brennan took a long road to get her breads on the store shelf. Born in Ireland, she met her husband in Kuwait where he served in the Navy, and the two came to live in the States in 2000. European traditions came with her, flavoring her baked goods, kneaded into her breads, pre-fermented for lightness.
"Traditional Irish scones," Brennan lists her specialties, "a different flavor every day. Croissants, Linzer torte, Norwegian almond cake, German chocolate cake, lemon bars, Bavarian pretzels, cheesecakes, tea cakes with Michigan fruits …"
It's a long list, and new additions are frequent at The Victorian Bakery. "European recipes are simple," Brennan says. "Not a lot of messing around. No secrets."
Brennan started by bringing treats to school for her two sons, "and it grew from there." Baking is a connection to family, to home, to community, even as she admits to missing Ireland on occasion. Kalamazoo, she says, is home now and will remain so, while the breads and sweet things that come from The Victorian Bakery ovens appear in more stores: Beer and Skittles, People's Food Co-op, Black Owl Café, and others.
Brennan uses organic flour that she buys in great quantities, arriving on pallets, for cost efficiency. She can be found baking early every morning, as soon as she has her youngest son on the school bus.
"There's a healthy competition in this town between the bakeries," she says. "Every one of us has our own specialty. Kalamazoo is becoming known as a food town, and that's better for all of us."