A bowl the size of a sled sits amid giant kitchen appliances and tantalizing scents. A girl is up to her elbows mixing batter for crispy rice treats. No, it’s not Santa’s workshop; it’s the Crimson Bake Shop.
“Mixing the rice crispy batter is everyone’s favorite job,” food service supervisor Karen Chesnut says with sarcasm, as two student bakers shake their heads and laugh.
The bake shop was founded in 1988 by Jeff Wold, now general manager with Hillside Café dining center. The shop operates as part of WSU Dining Services and is located in Stephenson dining.
In its first years, the bake shop made everything from scratch.
“One hundred dozen servings were sent out every morning,” Wold said. “Danishes, cakes, pies, muffins and doughnuts.“
But things have changed. Costs of scratch baking have gone up. Students want more variety and can get it easily at convenience stores.
“We’ve had to adjust,” Wold said. “For instance, we never used to have cakes at breakfast time, but now wedo.”
But some things remain the same. A baker’s day still begins at 3 a.m. Approximately eight people run the shop, includ
ing baker leads, a dishwasher and an office assistant.
Everything on the menu is hand made or mixed and is ready for delivery by 5 a.m. The bakery operates on a three-week menu cycle and ships to Northside and Hillside dining centers. Items for the espresso bars also are sent to Hillside.
“We go through lots of cookie dough,” Chesnut said. “We send 20-pound buckets of raw cookie dough to Northside and Hillside daily.”
The bakery made 2,380 cookies in October. Other favorites include chocolate lentil cake and crispy ricebars.
Cakes a specialty
The Crimson Bake Shop is especially proud of its specialty cakes. Birthday cakes are big with students in the dorms. For freshmen in particular, it’s often their first birthday away from home.
“But it’s harder on the parents than the students,” Chesnut said. “I’ve had mothers crying on the phone while they place their order.”
The program does its best to create the exact item ordered. In past years, that’s included dog bone-shaped cookies for the Apple Cup against the Huskies, and Washington state-shaped cakes for centennial celebrations.
In 2001, the bake shop began incorporating fresh, local products as part of the dining services sustainability initiative. Local ingredients include Shepherd’s Grain flour, black beans, garbanzo beans and lentils.
“Being a land-grant school, we take pride in developing the research and using the product to feed the university,” Wold said.
The Rotunda dining center is scheduled to reopen in the spring, which will free up some space at Stephenson and give the bake shop more room. Wold said the shop is looking toward the future and will re-evaluate its services.
“We’d like to go back to complete scratch cooking, which offers a healthier, more consistent product,” he said. “You can go anywhere to buy prepackaged food. Why not come to us for fresh?”