Retro Baking Company
Downtown’s new sweet surprise
Kandie Winchester spends the better part of many days covered in flour and loving it. Her work kneading dough and perfecting old cake recipes connects her to her mother and grandmother – both bakers of pies, fruit-filled turnovers, cinnamon rolls and other pastries whose warm, honeyed smells would fill the air at the Winchester Café & Grocery in Converse, La. Kandie grew up in the little Toledo Bend store. By age 9 she was selling crickets and cheeseburgers and waiting tables like the grown-ups.
By the 1980s, she was a server at Ralph and Kacoo’s in Bossier City, and it was there she met Kristi Tift, who would become her friend and future business partner. Both came from restaurant families and enjoyed the service industry; they eventually decided it made good sense to go into business together. Interestingly, though their backgrounds were both heavy in the food industry, their initial business involvement was in a day spa.
Over the years their businesses have run the gamut from the spa, which is still open, to a short-lived tattoo parlor to a coffee shop in the East Bank District and now, to the Retro Downtown Café at 420 Marshall St. and just-opened at 500 Texas St.
When you walk into the Retro Baking Company, Kandie is often in the kitchen working to put the finishing touches on old family recipes that include fruit-filled turnovers, peanut butter cake, pound cakes and blueberry muffins. These are not highfalutin’ fancy pants items, but good, solid favorites that she loved as a child. Kandie has already learned some things about her customers. “I am super surprised about the fruit kolaches,” she says. “First, people knew what they were, and then at the response to them.” The popular Czech/German pastry is traditionally made with various fruit fillings, and Kandie has taken special requests for just about everything from poppyseed and prunes to tangy apricot. She has also created savory kolaches filled with egg and cheese, ham, and sausage, but her Louisiana boudin kolaches have found both local fame and a following. “Who would have thought it?” she asks.
“The meat-filled kolaches were really more of an afterthought, to offer something unexpected,” she says. Her biggest draw, though, is her giant cinnamon rolls, which come hot out of the oven several times a day.
Her artisanal breads are also drawing supporters. Soon after her opening, Noble Savage Tavern chef Jon Ortiz came in and asked Kandie to make all the bread for his restaurant, a job that launched her into the direction of brioche buns and other things. “He asked me to also create a special popcorn ice cream over chocolate mousse sponge cake dessert for them,” says Kandie. “I couldn’t wait, it was so much fun!” “A customer came in the other day and asked where the olive bread was. I hadn’t made that recipe yet, but I baked two loaves just for him.” Other products she will be making include a Jewish egg bread called challah, a family-recipe coconut cake that takes the entire coconut, and a number of seasonal favorites. Kandie’s King Cake won a recent Mardi Gras tasting contest besting cakes from a number of local bakeries, and she is working to get the word out about them to a larger audience, as well.
It takes selling a lot of cookies and doughnuts to keep a brick-and-mortar storefront up and running, and Kandie is both optimistic and still learning. She smiles when she relates that by the end of Valentine’s Day, her display cases were bare. She is figuring out the items and times she needs to re-stock, and she is always willing to create something unique and special when a customer asks for it. In these days of texting your list to the grocery store and loading at the curb, of buying boxed meal plans over the Internet, of having lunch and dinner delivered to your home, tepid and with a service charge, there is something wonderfully reassuring about walking into a place where the person who made the item will cheerfully ask if you want it heated up, will share a funny story and a hearty laugh and always put customers first. Come and share in Retro’s deliciousness Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.