One of the changes in living downtown is the access I have to everything. Need a bottle of toothpaste? CVS right around the corner. Want some popcorn? Well, by golly there is a Pittsburgh Popcorn up the street. I come from a town where you drive everywhere to get anything. It’s a quick drive, mind you, but a drive nonetheless. What is stop and go traffic? This is a foreign concept.
Here’s a fun fact about myself: I’ve always dreamt of owning my own bakery. Everyone in my elementary school wistfully dreamt of being a firefighter or a police officer or a teacher. Not I. I wanted to bake cupcakes and cookies and donuts. I was a strange child.
The point of this tangent is I have a crazy amount of access to bakeries here in the city. Even better, there is a crazy amount of genuinely nice bakers willing to talk to me about the business.
I interviewed two bakery owners last week. Interview…eek! I was frazzled, sweating, and nervous. I’ve never done one of these before. What if I ask a question, and they secretly think “Wow, that was a stupid question,” I thought? I assure you, it isn’t as nerve wracking as it sounds. People love to talk about their passions. What began as a formal, borderline awkward interview, evolved into just a regular conversation.
On a cold, rainy Friday morning, I walked to Market Square to interview Lara Bruhn of Prantl’s bakery. Walking in, you are immediately inundated with the sweet smell of breads and pastries. Do not go in there with an empty belly. You will immediately regret your life choices.
Lara greeted me; we sat down; I hit the record button; and we’re off!
As a wee little chap, Lara lived in Paris, instilling in her brain the importance and social aspect baking can bring. However, she didn’t plan this baking route to begin with. She went to business school with the intentions of owning her own business (which, spoiler alert, she actually ends up doing!.).
Approximately six years ago, she visited a friend here in Pittsburgh. Her friend knew she was interested in relocating, so casually told her they were going to open a bakery here. Lara, her friend, and two other people eventually opened what is now Prantl’s Bakery in downtown.
Fine and dandy, but I wanted to get to the nitty gritty details. What makes you moan and groan and bitch and moan when forced to bake it? What makes you leap out of bed at 3 a.m. because you just can’t wait to head to work?
Lara loves loves loves their burnt almond torte. Apparently, it’s a famous Pittsburgh treat? Gasp, I didn’t know! So, see. You learn something new every day. The way she described it had my mouth watering on the spot though. The second my momma comes (because no way I can eat one by myself), I am dragging her there to get one.
On the flip side, their ladylocks provide her quite the headache. Because it’s a puff pastry, there is a bit of an inexact science to the matter. What else is in the oven, how tightly you wrap can all affect the outcome of the treat. You could put in the exact same dough and end up with a batch of perfect ladylocks and a batch of hot mess ladylocks.
We continued talking as the store clamored around us. I offhandedly mentioned I was from Kansas. Turns out, her sister lives in Lawrence, Kansas. I am almost certain that unless you follow college basketball or what Supernatural, you’ve probably never heard Lawrence, Kansas. However, it is the home of the University of Kansas, aka the school I went to last year. I swear I almost bear hugged the woman and screamed, “Someone who knows where I am from!” Sobs.
After a little small talk about the difference between Pittsburgh and Kansas, we parted ways. I felt I sufficiently handled this somewhat daunting task and continued on with my investigative streak.
I walked to the strip district (again do not do this on an empty stomach for there are far too many good smells) to talk to Enrcio of Enrico’s Biscotti.
I walked into the biscotti store, asked for Enrico, and everyone stared at me. I was alarmed. Did I get the wrong Enrico’s Biscotti? Did he suddenly forget? No, no, no. He was simply in the café next door. Whew! What a relief.
I walked to the most adorable little café. Immediately, Enrico warmly shook my hand and offered me a water (what a lad, that Enrico). We sit in the back of the café. And BAM! I’m off to interviewing again.
Enrico grew up in Pittsburgh, unlike Lara. However, he also had his foot in the corporate world for many years. He had a majestical moment that made him question his entire career. Sitting on the porch at a friend’s house after hours of baking, he watched the sun come up and it gave him that what in the hell am I doing with my life? moment. That was thirty years ago. Needless to say, he found his way somehow.
The love he has for the business is infections. He immediately began explaining how much he loves this job. It’s the best job in the world according to him. Does it have sucky hours? Sure. But that’s the nature of the business, he says.
If I thought Enrico was passionate about baking in general, nothing compares to his true passion: Bread. He spewed word after word about how atrocious Olive Garden bread is. His artesian eye can spot a bad bread a mile away. I had to bit back the laughter at the though of him stepping into an Olive Garden, dismissively shaking his head, and walking out. What a sight that must be.
He expressed a similar challenge Lara did: The inconsistencies of baking. When he makes his Christmas bread, he can never perfect the art of making it in a gas oven. He falls into temptation nearly every time the kitchen is empty. “Maybe this time it will be different” that small voice in his head misleadingly suggests. Don’t be fooled. It always ends in a heaping, cataclysmic pile of dough.
He ends the interview with a little nugget of advice that can really be applied anywhere. Don’t be afraid. Just dive right in. See where it takes you.
Not to end on this incredibly cheesy note, but that’s the one thing I’ve learned this far. You can’t be afraid of the adventures life gives you. They may annihilate you. They may break you down. But they may build you back up. You’ll never know until you try.
So who knows? Maybe that scrawny, glasses wearing, sweatshirt clad ten year old that meekly answered “a baker” when the counselor asked what she wanted to be when she grew up could see her dreams come true. Be let’s be real, hearing those ringing alarms indicating the start of the day…at 3 a.m. makes me want to weep. So maybe this isn’t the best career for me. A girl likes her sleep!