Sweet dreams on Water Street

Kelly Pickerel

Former Roosevelt High School teacher opens European-themed bakery

Charles Braeutigam, owner of the B„ckerei, rolls dough for croissants. He gets up every morning at 3 a.m. to go to the bakery and start the croissants. He previously taught at Theodore Roosevelt High School. Dan Maxwell | Special to the Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Charles Braeutigam spent 10 years of his life waking up each morning to make it to Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent before that 7:35 a.m. bell. Now he wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to make croissants and pretzels, hoping to hear the bell ring above his bakery’s door signaling some former students stopping in to catch up with their old teacher.

Braeutigam left the schools to open a European-themed bakery on Water Street in February 2008. He says the decision was difficult to make.

“It was my first real job after college. It was extremely hard to (leave), not necessarily to leave the school, but to leave my students,” he says. “It probably took me two years to finally decide to leave. It’s tough, because when you’re looking at giving up a steady paycheck for an unknown, it’s very, very difficult.”

If Braeutigam could take money out of the question, he said he doesn’t regret a thing.

“I miss my students, but my students come here to see me. So, I’m still in contact with all of them,” he says. “I really think I would have regretted it more had I not did it. Because then I would have always had to wonder what would have happened. Could I have done that? I mean, even if the business were to fail, at least I could say that I did it. I actually took a chance at doing something amazing.”

The B„ckerei recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, but the road to that point has been full of unexpected potholes and speed bumps.

“We were obviously hoping to be successful. We hadn’t accounted on the economy going as bad as it did,” Braeutigam says. Braeutigam and his sister-in-law Andrea Berry started construction in the summer of 2007 and had not expected the economy to take a turn for the worse throughout the next year. Now Braeutigam says he’s just waiting to see if the economy will even itself out, and the steady business will turn into a thriving one.

“It’s definitely going to take time (to) make people feel a little more comfortable about spending that extra 10 or 20 dollars a week – frivolously,” he says. “They just need to get out of the routine of always buying bread somewhere else or just knowing there’s an alternative.”

Opening a bakery had always been a life dream for Berry who worked in the bakery at Tops for more than 10 years. For Braeutigam it was a little less complicated.

“My (reasoning) just started from going to Europe so much, falling in love with their bread and not being able to get it here,” he says. “I made it my mission to do it myself.”

Berry found her brother-in-law’s passion easy to work with.

“There aren’t (a lot of European bakeries), and that’s probably why we did it,” she says. “Mostly our biggest thing was to have a fresh bakery because there aren’t any of those anymore. And the European idea just came with it.”

The recipes and ideas for their new, European-themed bakery came from Berry’s previous knowledge, friends, family and from overseas. Popular items from the menu include pretzels, cannoli, éclair and scones, and recently, the B„ckerei’s quick breads have been selling fast.

But still, with a lack of money for advertising, the B„ckerei depends on its regular customers and friends for business. Braeutigam taught French and German at the high school before giving it up to bake pastries, and previous students filter in and out of the shop daily. Mostly he stands in the back of the bakery, mixing and kneading, waiting for that ding of the bell above the doorway and old students to filter in.

“It’s amazing to hear what all they’ve been doing, which ones have actually taken German to heights that I never thought they would in high school. I have one kid who goes to college in New York. He takes German out there, and he said, ‘I tutor kids in German, and I do it just the same way you taught me,'” Braeutigam said with a smile.

Erika Knopsider, who works at the bakery part-time and is a previous student of Braeutigam’s in high school, says she sees how much he appreciates the visits from previous students.

“I don’t think he regrets (giving up teaching), but I know he misses his students,” she says. “Every time one of his students enters the bakery, it’s all smiles, and he’ll sit and talk to them for awhile. He’s really interested in their lives.”

Braeutigam says his goal as a teacher was to make learning fun.

“Since I was a kid, I loved French. I loved my French teacher,” he says. “I told him, I wanted to be the German teacher that he was for French. It seemed like it didn’t matter how smart the kids were, for some reason they always learned. This guy was amazing.”

One morning, a recent Theodore Roosevelt High School graduate entered the B„ckerei just to say hi. Not trying to be rude, he buys a small soft drink while Braeutigam recalled a story of the young man on a class trip to Europe.

“He was trying to buy something in Louis Vuitton just wearing shorts and a T-shirt. They wouldn’t even look at him!” Braeutigam said with a laugh. After reminiscing a while, the young man gets serious.

“Herr B. (Mr. B in German),” he says, “I joined culinary school. We just started, but I love it.” The pair discussed different ways to pipe filling into cannoli and how to handle certain dough, all the while Braeutigam grins ear to ear.

The student leaves, and Braeutigam sits in his empty dining area, content in the silence.

“It’s nice to hear that they’re moving on and doing great. Some of them color pictures and hang on the wall like they did in my classroom,” he says looking at the pages hanging near the cash register.

It’s obvious Braeutigam may have exceeded the influence of his favorite French teacher – and much, much more.

Contact assistant features editor Kelly Pickerel at [email protected].