When Christopher and Anna Oetker moved their 10-month-old bakery, Christopher Ryan Confections, from NewBo City Market to larger space in Marion six months ago, they didn’t envision starting their customer base from scratch.
“We had maybe 5 percent (of our customers) come over if we were lucky,” Oetker said. “We assumed the customers would follow us, but that wasn’t the case.”
To make up for the loss of the New Bohemia neighborhood’s foot traffic, the couple turned their focus to filling an empty niche in their new market.
Their expanded bakery and café features a large menu of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan lunch options and sweet treats, in addition to more conventional fare.
“Our customers used to have to drive a long way to get gluten-free options,” Oetker said. “It feels good to help them out.”
With respect to recent news that NewBo City Market had not renewed the leases of some of its original anchor merchants, the couple viewed the market as a business incubator and signed on with plans to expand their business to a café setting within the year.
“When we originally signed the lease we knew there were no guarantees that it would be renewed,” he said. “That’s why we looked for a new location.”
The bakery’s current location, which the Oetkers had been looking at off and on for the last five years, became available in August. The new space has room for a 35-seat dining area and a kitchen quadruple the size of what Oetker and his baking assistant had at NewBo.
“Two hundred square feet was not much to work with,” Oetker said.
Oetker, who attended Kirkwood Community College’s culinary program and the French Pastry School in Chicago, was able to expand the bakery’s menu beyond pastries to sandwiches, soups and salads. Lunchtime selections range from Chick-un Salad (made with chickpeas) to Tofu Sloppy Joes to French Dip sandwiches.
Oetker said 98 percent of all items served at the bakery are made from scratch, including the sandwich bread. The kitchen is equipped with a gluten-free sandwich station to avoid cross-contamination, and Oetker and his assistant do all gluten-free baking separately after a triple-sanitation process.
With a menu that changes every two months to incorporate seasonal ingredients, Oetker is always trying out new recipes and experimenting with new techniques. He also takes custom cake and pastry orders.
Although it has been a challenge to establish the bakery’s footing in a new market, Oetker expresses no regret.
“This location allows me to do more of what I love.”
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