Fresh Milled and Fresh Roasted

Messenger Cafe features a coffee roasting facility, enabling customers to interact with staff and view the process.
 
Bags of Turkey Red wheat from central Kansas arrive at Ibis Bakery in Kansas City, where the whole grains are milled on a 40-inch granite stone mill located inside the newly opened Messenger Cafe, a 50/50 partnership between Ibis Bakery and Messenger Coffee Co. Just a month after opening, Ibis already is milling 1,500 pounds of flour a week, transforming the freshly milled grain into beautiful 2-pound loaves of country, seeded and sesame breads and rich pastries such as kouign amann and sticky buns.

Hand constructed, the stone mill is made with circular wheels of natural granite straight out of the Barre quarries in central Vermont where baker Andrew Heyn runs two businesses, Elmore Mountain Bread with his wife, Blair, and New American Stone Mills. Quickly becoming the go-to stone mill builder in the United States, Heyn built and helped install 17 stone mills in the past year, including the in-house mill at Ibis and one for Whole Foods Market. Stones are dressed to individual specifications of the mill operator. A standard 40-inch stone mill costs $18,000.

Chris Matsch, who owns Ibis Bakery with his wife, Kate, says their goal is to mill “100 percent of our flour. Right now, we’re milling about every other day. We’re using fresh mill for our bread program. Our base is Turkey Red wheat from central Kansas.”

Their on-site stone mill includes a sifter; Matsch says they mill at an 80 percent extraction rate, helping remove some coarseness. “That’s beautiful,” comments acclaimed bread baker and instructor Jeffrey Hamelman, when told of the extraction rate Ibis uses. “There is a taste benefit of freshly milled flour. Every part of the food industry has been reinvented, and the last one to do so is grain. Flour was once looked upon as a commodity, until very recently. More educated bakers and more educated consumers are changing that, and that bodes well for the local and regional grain movement.”

Ibis Bakery plans to mill 100 percent of its flour using this stone mill installed by New American Stone Mills in Vermont.
 
Indeed, Matsch is among the new young innovators of the bread baking industry, helping lead a distinct shift from the traditional role of a retail storefront into a broader role in which the local bakery serves as an integral, working component of a local farm community.

“We are interested in developing relationships with local farms — instead of just consuming ingredients,” Matsch says. “We are hoping to participate in a localized farm economy.”

Ibis Bakery works with local farmers in Kansas and Missouri, including 180 Farms in Sweet Springs, Missouri, an egg and meat producer committed to pasture-raised and antibiotic-free products. The farm grows some wheat for Ibis, including Warthog (a variety known for its flavor) and Appalachian White hard winter wheat.

Ibis Bakery operates two additional retail spaces, Ibis Lenexa and Fervere, which currently buy their own flour. Chris Matsch says that milling their own flour will open future doors to new possibilities. Together, the three retail operations bake 14 to 16 types of bread per day, and Messenger Cafe already makes hundreds of loaves a day. Beyond sales of individual loaves, bread is served with meals like beet hummus with pickled vegetables and chunks of bread for dipping and open-face breakfast Tartines served on sesame loaf. A popular item called Savory Puff comes loaded with braised greens, local bell peppers, onions, house-smoked bacon, gruyere and local radish greens.

“This is a bread-centric kitchen, and we want bread to be a component of everything,” Matsch says. “I’m excited about the flavors of our breads and pastries. Freshly milled tastes better. It’s synonymous with the difference between buying coffee and grinding it, as opposed to buying ground coffee.”

“This is a bread-centric kitchen, and we want bread to be a component of everything,” says Chris Matsch.

When asked whether he can taste the local grain, he adds: “We are doing so much testing on flavors, and the milling process truly allows you to recognize the difference.”

Such words are music to the ears of veteran bakers like Hamelman. “The local grain movement is requiring bakers to be more skilled, and consumers are going to respond to that,” he says. “Bread should be the most universal food. People want great bread.”

Great Bread, Great Coffee

Kansas City is now home to one of the most innovative retail spaces in America with the opening of Messenger Cafe, the groundbreaking $4.2 million collaboration between Messenger Coffee and Ibis Bakery. Within the 16,000-square-foot space, there is a cafe, wholesale coffee roasting facility, cupping lab, office, grain mill, sourdough bread and pastry bakery, lunch spot, and rooftop deck with fireplace.

In addition to the stone mill, the bakery features top-of-the-line TMB Baking bakery equipment (deck oven with up to 200-loaf capacity, retarder-proofer and mixers). The second-floor roastery enables consumers to enjoy an interactive experience by viewing coffee roasting and quality control lab in action.

“Consumers demand transparency now, and Farm Direct for us is the standard by which we run our coffee operations,” says Isaac Hodges, director of business development for Messenger Coffee. “This retail store completes the message of our brand.”

Messenger says that it wants to make great coffee approachable to everyone.
 
The new building features an open floor plan between all different zones of the space, so that customers can see bakers and roasters at work. The first floor houses the bakery and cafe, as well as the flour mill, one of the few in-house mills in the country. On the second floor, visitors can watch Messenger’s coffee roasters, participate in coffee tastings with the team, and enjoy a deeper experience of coffee at the slow bar. On the third floor is a reading room/quiet space, and the outdoor rooftop deck includes a fireplace. The entire space can seat 300.

“We’re working on being open later (the retail store currently closes at 3 p.m. daily) and having dinner service or events,” says Matsch, pointing out future menus will include pizza and pasta. “Pasta is my favorite thing to make and cook, but not right now. We have been significantly busier than we thought, especially on weekends. Our staff here is very impressive. We have not compromised on quality, which is really great. That’s a big success, and it’s attributable to our staff.”

Chris and Kate Matsch are managing partners of the cafe, in addition to owning Ibis Bakery. On the coffee side, Chris’ brother Matt Matsch oversees Messenger Coffee as chief executive officer and managing partner. The two brothers are young and eager to make a difference in the way Kansas Citians enjoy their daily bread and coffee. They grew up in a family of entrepreneurs (their mother, Carole, owns Black Dog Coffeehouse in Lenexa, and their father, Ron, is chief executive officer of Challenger Sports, a leading youth soccer organization). You can tell right away that business is in their blood.

The brothers started their coffee and bakery businesses about five years ago and grew together. Trevor Welch is another key figure as co-founder and managing partner of Messenger Coffee, and Nick Robertson, head of quality control and coffee buying, and Kiersten Rex, head roaster, work in instrumental roles on the coffee side.

Kate and Chris Matsch of Ibis Bakery, and Matt Matsch of Messenger Coffee.
 
Robertson spends much of his time visiting directly with farmers in Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Peru where the company sources its Farm Direct coffee beans.

“Having fruitful relationships direct with the farmers is important to us,” Robertson says. “We can process coffee the way we want based on our customers’ needs.” And now with the opening of Messenger Cafe with its own roasting facility and learning lab, he adds: “No matter where someone is drinking coffee, we can elevate their standards.”

Until now, Messenger Coffee had not operated its own retail branded store and served as a wholesaler to numerous Kansas City accounts. Messenger Coffee purchased controlling interest in four area Filling Station coffee shops in 2014, and two years later, Ibis Bakery purchased Fervere bakery, one of the city’s most beloved artisan bread shops founded by Fred Spompinato, who retired.

Now Chris and Kate Matsch are determined to developed a unique signature style of Kansas City bread, milled with local grains and filled with delicious flavors.

“We want to introduce something new and different to Kansas City,” Chris Matsch says. “You have to put it out there, and we want people to participate in the process with us.”

Historical Significance

The building at 1624 Grand offers historical significance. It was built in 1919 by the local architecture firm of Smith, Rea, and Lovitt for the Bruening Brothers Automobile Company. By 1940, the building had become a Dunlop Tire dealer, evidence of which remains at the entrance of the building, which includes an original tile mosaic in the entryway.

The building at 1624 Grand was added to the National Historic Register in 2008.
 
“This project was three years in the making,” Chris Matsch says. “We kept the original floors and plaster walls. It qualified for historical registration, and they helped us fund our project through the process. From the beginning, we wanted there to be coffee roasting, pastry production and bread baking. Messenger Coffee was growing out of their wholesale space.”