Three of Sitka’s new business ventures have at least one thing in common –mouthwatering baked treats. And KCAW’s Brielle Schaeffer had to try them all – Rising Tide bagels, donuts from Grandma Tillie’s Bakery and croissants from Graceful Pastries.
I wish I could tell this story through smells instead of sounds. If I could, you would smell butter, warm bread and cinnamon sugar.
As good as all of those aromas are, tasting the merchandise at these Sitka businesses is even better. Take it from me, I tried them myself:
“I’m sitting by the water here in Sitka and I have a provolone and prosciutto croissant from Graceful Pastries. And I am going to eat some of this. It’s really flakey. Mmmm so delicious.”
Open since October, Graceful Pastries started as an experiment by Grace Ivers to see if small-batch French baked goods would have a market on Baranof Island. She’s using the kitchen at Ludvig’s Bistro while the restaurant is closed for the winter. Her boyfriend Christian Litten works the counter.
“We’ve got some eclairs left in the case there those are mini pumpkin cheesecakes and a lemon cream tart,” he said.
Her customers’ feedback has been pretty much the same as mine. One day a customer rushed into the shop, called her an “angel,” and said he had been waiting for years for someone to start a pastry shop in Sitka.
“Seeing that reaction is really just such a payoff in itself having someone so grateful to have something that’s handmade,” Ivers said.
Ivers has worked in a kitchen for the last seven years and is a self-taught pastry chef. She considers baking her passion, because she likes working with her hands. In the case of perfect puff pastry dough, which she learned while working in a French bakery in California, it takes a lot of arm strength.
“Everything gets rolled by a rolling pin and it takes a lot of work but the upside of that is I’m really strong now, my biceps are huge,” she said.
While her test run has been successful, she still doesn’t have a permanent kitchen and retail space. At least not yet.
“Hopefully in the future it will be something I can do full-time have an actual bakery where people can get pastries and bread. It’ll be a little while before that happens.”
The last day of her test run at Ludwig’s is Monday. Afterward, she’ll be available for special orders for cakes and French macarons.
Just down Sawmill Creek Road, Kris Chinalski’s shop Grandma Tillie’s Bakery serves maple baked donuts, glazed sugar cookies and ham and cheese pinwheels out of drive-thru window in a bright pink cottage. It’s 1957 T-Bird Pink to be exact.
“That’s the color of the T-Bird I’d like to have but you know that the T-bird costs about the same as this building so I’ll take the building,” she said.
Her shop started out similarly to Graceful Pastries – at first in a limited space on Katlian Street–but she finally found a lot just big enough for a stand-alone kitchen. She opened in August. They’re famous for their cinnamon rolls.
“It’s drive-through only because of the square footage of the lot,” she said. “That’s not what we wanted. I’d much rather have the people in here.”
The small space also means no room for a deep fryer or hooded ventilation system, so no fried donuts. But, she says, seeing satisfied customers through the window of her cozy stand makes up for it.
“The best part I think is that right there, the person sitting there that’s out in the cold or going to work and we open the window and all the good smells come out and they love it,” she said. “That’s the best part.”
Chinalski comes from a long line of bakers. The shop’s namesake, her paternal Great Grandma Tillie, baked and sold bread in Port Alexander. And her grandmothers on both sides were also cooks. And she’s passing the heritage along to her daughters
“That’s five generations of bakers,” she said.
And if you travel even further down Sawmill Creek, Graig Rofkar boils and bakes his bagels out of a commercial kitchen in a recently converted auto paint shop. He sells them by order-only.
“Right now I’m making asiago. I just made cranberry orange, but I can do the gamut: all the seeded, cheddar, cheddar garlic, jalapeno swiss, cinnamon raisin,” he said.
He calls his business Rising Tide.
“My mom’s a weaver and I’m also part Tlingit and we are the people of the tides and it just kind of fit with the rising of the dough and here we are in Sitka,” Rofkar said. “It just seems like it fit.”
Born and raised here, Rofkar got his start working at Sitka’s old Mojo Café. He then left for culinary school and worked in the Lower 48 at several bakeries and even a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.
To give his bagels an Alaskan flair, he uses some sourdough. He got the starter from his mom, Tlingit artist Teri Rofkar.
“She says it started from the Kennecott Mine days,” he said.
Rofkar is dedicated to making bagels the traditional way, by boiling them to get a chewy outer skin. His bagels are also vegan (except the cheese ones) and mostly organic.
“Some argue mine are too soft on the inside,” Rofkar said. “But I’m doing that on purpose because people up here would rather make a sandwich out of it.”
I tired them and they’re not too soft for me, but — as with all of Sitka’s new baked goods– you’ll have to taste them for yourself.
Graceful Pastries is open from Friday to Monday for its final weekend. Grandma Tillie’s Bakery is open Wednesdays through Sundays and Rising Tide bagels are available by special order.