MEET YOUR MERCHANT
Chelsea Palmer of Central Illinois Bakehouse
Central Illinois Bakehouse is a local wholesale bakery in Midtown Champaign. They distribute fresh-baked breads and pastries to over 130 locations in the central Illinois area. CCP spoke with General Manager, Chelsea Palmer.
How did the Bakehouse get started, and what’s the connection to Pekara?
Central Illinois Bakehouse used to be called Pekara Bakehouse. In 2005, the previous owner opened Pekara Bakery & Bistro on Neil Street. The owner eventually began to search for a larger baking facility in the area, as baking everything in their little café was quite a challenge! So eventually Pekara Bakery & Bistro became the retail store, and Pekara Bakehouse became the wholesale bakery. For several years, Central Illinois Produce had been the delivery service for the Bakehouse goods, and in 2016 the previous owner sold the Bakehouse to us. I’ve been in this role since then.
Do you have a background in baking or culinary arts?
No, I don’t. I actually went to school for marketing and management. My dad is the owner of Central Illinois Produce, and the previous owner reached out to him about buying the bakery formerly known as Pekara.
What’s the daily schedule like here at the Bakehouse, and how do you balance it with your daily life?
The schedule of the bakery is designed to make product for next day deliveries. Mixing starts at 7 a.m., shapers come in at 8 a.m., evening bakers come in at 2 p.m., packagers come in at 5 p.m., and delivery drivers come in around 4 a.m.
My schedule is generally 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the office. My role is a bit all over the place. I have three different sides that I work for: our customers, my team, and the owner. In a given day I do everything from paying bills and running financial reports, to cheering on the bakers, inspecting quality, answering calls and emails from customers, and writing new processes for the bakery. There have even been times where I’ve had to jump in because somebody is out, and occasionally you can catch me working our stand at the Urbana Farmer’s Market.
How many locations do you distribute to, and what’s the farthest location?
Including all Espresso Royale locations, we distribute to 130 in total. Some are consistent orders, some are not. Our farthest deliveries are St. Louis, MO (a large farmer’s market) and Rockford, IL (a natural grocery market). Our delivery trucks go up to Rockford once per week, and Robb Tobias (Sales Representative at CIB) drives down to deliver product to St. Louis once per week.
What’s something our readers might not know about running a bakery?
People don’t see how physically hard it is and how much our bakers do. Our bakers are on their feet all day, working around hot ovens and oven racks, and they are lifting heavy things such as bread pans, sacks of flour, and bread dough. We go through 15,000 pounds of flour per week! Croissants are our biggest seller. Normally we make about 800 per day, or 6,000 per week. During the farmer’s market season, we make anywhere from 10,000 - 12,000 per week!
Also, many people don’t realize that pretty pastries like cookies and cake are a very small portion of what we do; out of our 20-person team of bakers, only two or three are in the pastry kitchen. The rest of our staff is in the bread department. Our breads are quite literally the “bread and butter” of Central Illinois Bakehouse!
And finally, what’s your favorite bread or pastry that Central Illinois Bakehouse makes?
Hmm… I’m torn between the fudge brownies and carrot cake!