Annemarie Maitri has achieved what you would assume is every small business owner’s dream: in January, she opened a second location of her bakery, Bloom Bake Shop.
But she said it never actually occurred to her as a goal.
“I actually didn’t aspire for two,” she said. “I was never someone that wanted to have one on every corner. I just wanted to be a neighborhood bakery.”
But the neighborhood loved the bakery too much. Seven years ago, when Maitri opened the little Middleton location at 1834 Parmenter St., it opened at 11 a.m. Customers started knocking on the door earlier and earlier, so Bloom started opening at 7 a.m.
Next, Bloom started catering desserts for weddings. It was a smash hit. This summer, it was painfully obvious that the kitchen was too cramped to accommodate the cakes.
Maitri started planning: not to expand, but to move to Monroe Street, in Maitri’s own neighborhood and closer to her kids. Two shops would be a lot, she thought. Yet as she sat down to discuss the move with her Middleton team, they decided they could tackle two locations.
The result is a quaint new cafe location at 1851 Monroe St. (formerly Pasqual's) with significantly more seating than the few bar stools in the Middleton location; here on Monroe Street, an abundance of sturdy white chairs gather around wood tables. Asked to characterize the difference between the two shops, Maitri is succinct:
“One’s a shoebox,” she joked. “It takes a lot longer to mop this place.”
On each table, a small green succulent sprouts out of a white mason jar. Green and teal cake plates rest on the counter, ferns hang from the ceiling and windows allow customers to watch the decorating in action. Maitri’s planning to use the currently blank back hallway as an gallery to showcase seasonal local art.
It’s the perfect homey setting to grow a community, so it’s not particularly surprising that in the first week it was open, a familial feeling started to blossom. Maitri saw a group bring in the game Bananagrams, and a grandmother reading to a child. There’s one long table, and Maitri plans to place a sign on it specifically telling people not to “break up” the table by spacing themselves out.
“You won’t be anonymous here, is kind of what I like to say. Go get your work done and then come here and be social,” she said, laughing.
The cafe community has already grown so much that even though one of the main reasons for the expansion was to relocate the wedding business, it will stay in Middleton to let the cafe flourish unfettered.
Part of that growth involves a bigger menu: Monroe Street hosts the same sweet treats in the form of cupcakes, cookies, bars and donuts, but includes an expanded line of savory food and now serves alcoholic drinks like a bitter pear cider, a Scotch ale, bellinis, sauvignon blanc, mimosas and beer.
“A beer with a buttermilk biscuit sandwich is pretty awesome. Or a really nice port with a chocolate dessert,” Maitri suggested.
I routinely bring out-of-town guests to the Middleton Bloom for their wondrous breakfast sandwiches, and Monroe Street offers more options like the brown sugar biscuit ($8) with spiced pecans and maple syrup butter and the southern biscuit ($9), which Maitri makes with a black pepper biscuit, thick slices of fried ham, melted aged cheddar and peach preserves.
The crunch of the crust, cushion of the biscuit, sweet glaze of preserves and the savory chewiness of the meat makes you wonder why anyone, ever, buys the pre-made food they heat up at Starbucks.
Just as expansion wasn’t originally in the cards, baking wasn’t Maitri’s initial career choice. Preparing food well is just her lifestyle. Growing up in Louisiana, where she says “food is kind of a religion,” Maitri was constantly in the kitchen with her parents.
“At breakfast we were talking about lunch, at lunch we were talking about dinner. When you got home from school you put your backpack down, you could smell smells, but that didn’t mean dinner was ready, you know? It meant you better get in the kitchen and start helping,” she said.
She got a degree in psychology and a master’s in gerontology, worked in sales and marketing, stayed at home with her kids for a while and then took small business classes through the UW school of business.
“I started to dream Bloom on paper,” she said. “I knew I had dessert love, but I knew I wouldn’t open my doors without my belief system around sourcing.”
She thinks her studies in gerontology played a role in forming that belief system.
“To me, the study of aging relates to my passion for ingredients and sourcing. Because I do think that what we put in our bodies, whether it is a sweet treat or not, matters in terms of how we feel, how we process it,” she said.
Bloom has two cases of bakery treats, and one is entirely vegan and gluten-free. Maitri cares deeply about all her ingredients.
Local farmers supply her with eggs, butter, flour, herbs, tea, coffee, soda, preserves, honey and more. Her suppliers, which include Organic Valley, Lonely Oak Farm, Mad Urban Bees and Lonesome Stone, are listed on the menu. A new line of custom Bloom wedding cakes will be garnished by seasonal blooms from Mad Lizzie’s Flower Farm.
Even though Maitri’s not looking to open a third Bloom, she wants to grow Bloom’s education efforts. The Monroe Street location will host community classes and demonstrations, and Maitri’s writing a business plan to start a nonprofit arm of Bloom to create an “edible school” that would teach people how to cook and source their food.
“My passion is really teaching people where their food comes from,” she said. “We’ve always been more than just sweets. There’s a story behind every dessert that we have.”
She’s proud of her company’s choices, but it’s not the simplest business model.
“Our eggs are upwards of $4 a dozen, our butter can be $5, and to sell something that comes in a $3.50 package is ambitious,” she said. “So I’m pretty proud that seven years later we have 35 employees.”
But she doesn’t see any more expansion in her future.
“Society, when you’re successful, encourages us to grow, grow, grow, grow and get bigger and bigger,” she said. “Growing big isn’t always the best thing, so sometimes I have to fight to stay small.”
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