Eat, bake, sleep

Brittany Moseley

Late night bakery prepares cookies, cakes and pastries for entire campus

Senior baker Geri Hogan shows Liz Carlisle, junior integrated life sciences major, how to make cream sticks. Hogan has been working at the bakery for 22 years. Photos by Abigail S. Fisher

Credit: DKS Editors

Part-time baker Joseph Holmes prepares cookies for the oven. The bakery produces approximately 50 dozen cookies a day and thousands of pastries every week.

Credit: DKS Editors

It’s 2 a.m. and most of campus is asleep.

For Liz Carlisle, her day is only just starting.

The only light in Twin Towers comes from the security television behind the front desk. The previously snow-covered carpet is finally dry. There isn’t any shouting or laughing coming from the halls.

With her hair shoved in a blue baseball cap, she watches senior baker Geri Hogan pinch the edges together on a long cinnamon roll. Hogan is preaching about the details of doughnut making as Carlisle takes notes quickly.

Carlisle is one of 20 students who work at the campus bakery, a place many students don’t know exists.

“I used to say the only people who knew the bakery was Beall and McDowell because when we used to bake in the morning, the vents would filter the doughnuts and go down into the dorms,” bakery manager John Gates said, laughing as he leaned back in his chair.

Although not many students know where the bakery is, almost everyone has tasted its products. The bakery makes all the baked goods on campus. Students can also order baked goods – even wedding cakes – through banquet sales.

Gates likes to refer to his time in Dining Services as tours of duty. He ran the bakery from 1989 to 1994, and he came back again in 2006. What started as a part-time job as a catering driver in 1983 has led to 25 years in Dining Services.

“I have worked every unit on campus,” Gates said. “I even took a tour of duty in the Rat.”

As bakery manager, Gates, known as Gator by his staff, starts his day at 12:15 a.m. He checks cooler temperatures, turns on the ovens, checks phone messages and goes over the production schedule. At 2 a.m., his staff of students, two temporary bakers and two full-time bakers, start to filter in, looking tired and groggy. It only takes them a few minutes to wake up. Soon everyone is talking, laughing and, of course, baking.

A cart, 20 cookie sheets high, stands in front of the oven as temporary baker Joseph Holmes loads them into the oven. Full-time baker Sharon Perkowski leans over a stainless steel table going over Jazzman’s orders for the day. At 2:15, Gates threatens to call students who haven’t arrived for work. Perkowski tells him three students called off. While this would worry most bosses, Gates looks quite relaxed.

“It’s really relaxed here,” Carlisle said as she placed cinnamon rolls on a tray. “If there’s a little problem, you can just go back and fix it – no big pressure.”

Carlisle, junior integrated life sciences major, started at the bakery six months ago. She works a variety of hours, but she said each Monday, it’s hard adjusting to the bakery schedule.

Although most would grimace at the idea of working at 2 a.m., temporary baker Jan Wilson said she loves this time of day.

“I can run around all day and sleep all night,” Wilson said as she stands next to a mixer taller than her.

Wilson joined the bakery three years ago and said she loves her job.

“I like the way we all work together to get things done. I like helping the students ’cause they’re all so nervous at first,” she said.

What started as steady work for Gates has turned into a family affair.

“Kent State is family, bottom line,” Gates said. “You work at some jobs and everybody nit picks and everybody back-stabs or everybody complains about everything. Everybody just works together (here).”

Whether he is talking about ingredient lists or a new Milky Way cupcake he wants to try, Gates’ passion for baking is always evident.

“It’s a science, it really is,” he said. “I enjoy challenges I guess – making new products and different combinations.”

The bakery is constantly trying new recipes, and Gates said he wants to try three new muffin recipes, a couple new cookies and four or five sugar free recipes this semester.

Going to work at 2 a.m. and learning to bake doughnuts is a different job, but Gates said he wants students to gain more than baking skills.

“They have to learn when to sleep, when to get up and when to study,” Gates said, and then, after a pause, he adds, “Hopefully they realize they can have fun where they work.”

Contact room and board reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].