St. Louis is widely known as the Gateway to the West, but now we can add “gateway to innovation.” My recent visit to this iconic metro of 2.85 million people, where peanut butter and the ice cream cone (my two favorite things) were invented, proved as much while reminding me of the power of innovation and how it can reshape an industry.
When I first joined bake magazine 17 years ago, there were thousands of full-line bakeries, mostly family owned places that decorated cakes and cookies, fried donuts, baked breads and rolls, and sold a lot of breakfast pastries. Today, the shift is on, and St. Louis offers a case study for retailers on how to embrace change.
Several relative newcomers to the bakery scene here have already grabbed the city’s collective admiration. Feast, a popular consumer publication that dishes out its annual Feast 50 Awards, recognized 2018 winners in St. Louis that included Nathaniel Reid of Nathaniel Reid Bakery for best pastry chef, Pint Size Bakery & Coffee for best bake shop, and Union Loafers for best baker.
Pastry chefs and co-owners Christy Augustin and Nancy Boehm, who opened Pint Size Bakery in 2012, make everything by hand in small batches. For National Bakery Day on Sept. 14, they gave out free samples of chai zucchini tea bread. Sandwich cookies are their specialty, but not the kind you ordinarily see: molasses with RumChata buttercream or salted caramel chocolate with dulce de leche buttercream. “We want people to have a happy little break from their life with a cookie and a giggle,” Augustin says of the goal for their bakery.
Opened in 2016, Nathaniel Reid Bakery features a premium but approachable menu of dessert cakes and pastries, macarons, breakfast pastries, sandwiches, salads, quiches, sweet snacks, pound cakes, meringues and jams. “If your croissants are great, then they’ll try the kouign amann,” Reid explains. And that leads us to the valuable lesson about innovation for today’s retailer: Drive traffic to your bakery with flavors and products that customers know and bring them back with unique creations they can’t wait to taste again.