17075 Mumford Road, Burton, OH 44021
Ivan Bender, Owner
Cora Miller, Manager
Not many people can say, "I adore it," when talking about their job. Cora Miller, manager of Countryside Bakery, is one of the few who can.
Cora, who has worked at the bakery for six years now, says, "I really, really do like it. I couldn't ask for a better job."
She said she didn't realize how much she enjoyed baking until she started working for bakery owner Ivan Bender.
"At home I'd make cookies if we needed some, but I didn't go out of my way to bake."
Now Cora manages the bakery at 17075 Mumford Road in Burton where she loves everything about her job.
"I enjoy working with people, taking care of customers in the store and just the challenge of extra orders, of trying to get everything done," she says. "I try to strive for perfection. I'm not satisfied if something doesn't look right."
In previous years, all of the baking for Geauga Family Farms was done by the farmers' wives. As the program has grown, this has become more of a challenge. This spring the families wanted to find another option for the baked goods, and all agreed that Countryside Bakery was an excellent alternative. This option is still considered as being part of the Geauga Family Farms family since Cora is the daughter of Neil Miller, GFF warehouse manager.
How it all began
When Ivan and his wife Nora needed a way to supplement their income in 2005, Nora came up with the idea to start baking.
Having a home bakery was nothing new for either of them. Ivan himself grew up with a bakery in his childhood home and started baking at the age of 12.
"We both started baking and it grew," Ivan said. "We just baked in the basement and sold it from our house."
One of the items that sold so well was their cinnamon rolls.
"We make breads and pies, but our cinnamon rolls are our specialty," Ivan said. "People really like them. It's the same recipe my mom made and everyone knows that recipe. It's just a good cinnamon roll."
Ivan wouldn't give away the secret to what makes them so good.
"It's in the way we mix them. It's our little secret. The way we go about it they remain soft. And we use caramel frosting; a lot of people are used to maple frosting, but we happen to be using the caramel frosting."
When the couple started selling their baked goods at farmers markets in Bainbridge and Willoughby the demand for their bakery grew even more. They decided to build a separate building on their property in 2008.
A building all its own
The stand-alone bakery has two wood-fired ovens. The hand-crafted stainless steel-lined ovens, built by an Amish craftsman in New York, stand more than 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 30 inches deep. The ovens can each easily bake 25 loaves, or 12 pies, at once.
It's Cora's job to take care of the wood-burning ovens. She relies on thermometers, but can tell when the ovens are not hot enough, or when they're too hot, without checking them.
"Over the years, I can kind of tell just by walking in front of them how the wood is burning," she said. "I can be 10 feet away from the oven and I can just tell when it's too hot."
Ivan said depending on whom you ask, some might say they can detect the taste of wood smoke, while others don't. The smoke exits from the back of the oven, so it isn't like baking over an open flame.
"When I started baking at home as a boy, we used kerosene then switched to wood," Ivan said. "A lot of Amish will tell you they can detect a difference. I would definitely say it's a better product out of these ovens, but whether you can actually taste or smell the wood, I would hate to make that claim."
As their business continued to grow, Nora did the most of the baking. Ivan began to help out more and more. They hired help and still more people wanted to try their delicious breads, pies and cookies. Then, the couple was blessed with children. Now they have four adorable little girls, ages 2 to 6, and Nora's full-time job has become keeping the house and caring for the girls.
Ivan was running the bakery and doing the baking himself while serving as treasurer of the Geauga Amish Loan Fund, a fund that takes investments from the Amish community and loans money to first-time Amish homebuyers and those pursuing a living in agriculture. When his position became more full time, Cora stepped in as the bakery manager.
"She pretty well runs the show now," Ivan says. "It's just working out very well."
Time for a healthy change
Countryside Bakery soon added another farmers market to its list, this time a market at The Cleveland Clinic. The standards governing items for sale at the North Union Farmers Market were the motivation for a major shift to healthier products for Countryside Bakery. The market, where you may also have health screenings done, requires there be no trans-fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, in any baked goods sold at the market.
"I'd like to think that's what differentiates us from conventional bakeries other than the wood-burning ovens," Ivan said. "We used to use oleo in cooking - in cinnamon rolls and everything. Now we use strictly butter, lard and canola oils," with the exception of some frosted cookies that contain Crisco.
"I took the recipes we were using and switched from margarine to butter," Cora said.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds though.
"You can't take quite equal amounts - for a cup of margarine you would only use about ¾ cup of butter," Cora said. "It was a challenge to switch over and get them to come out like they did with the margarine, but they definitely have a better taste."
The end result is a costlier product, but a better product, Ivan said.
"As you go in to some of these bakeries in stores like Walmart and Giant Eagle - I can't deny the fact that it looks and tastes good - but if you look at the label, it's a huge, lengthy label, and that's due to the fact that it has so many preservatives. Our labels are much shorter because we use fewer ingredients."
They don't use artificial coloring either.
"We used to use Jell-O in our fruit pies," Ivan said. "The public is becoming more and more aware of the negative impact these ingredients have on your body, so by a customer suggestion we did away with the Jell-O so now our pies don't have any added colors; they're naturally colored with the fruit juice."
Ivan was the first to admit that he doesn't have quite the same convictions for himself as some of his customers when it comes to healthy eating.
"What goes into the body comes out of the body and sometimes it appears in the form of sickness," he said. "I like to eat too much though and don't always pay attention to that for myself, but we try to provide a healthier product for our customers."
Start of a great new partnership
The healthy baked goods fit right in with Geauga Family Farms' produce that comes from 10 certified-organic family farmers. Ivan says he's excited about the partnership.
"I think it will give us some exposure," Ivan said. "And advance orders are always great. I call them a guaranteed sell - we're not baking and hoping customers will come by to get it."
He says it's hard to sell his bakery wholesale; it loses something in the translation. For a wholesaler to purchase his baked goods and then trek them 20 to 40 miles away and mark it up wouldn't make it an easy sell.
"Our prices aren't as competitive because we make everything by hand," Ivan said. "People are more apt to pay more when they can see for themselves what they're buying was made from scratch and baked in a wood-fired oven."
Countryside Bakery also makes baked supplies for parties such as sub buns for hoagie sandwiches, as well as hotdog and hamburger buns. You don't have to drive all the way out to the bakery to pick up these baked goods.
You may order Countryside's baked goods on the Geauga Family Farms Web site to have items delivered with your share. During the summer you also may place your order by phone then pick it up at one of the three farmers markets - Geauga Fresh Market in Bainbridge, North Union Farmers Market at the Cleveland Clinic or the Willoughby Outdoor Farmers Market.
To order additional items to be delivered at the farmers markets, call Cora or Ivan at 440-834-0776. The bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday year round.