The grand opening of Bakery & Pickle, Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group’s newest venture, is right around the corner. The private dinner club is unlike any other in Bloomington-Normal, transforming into a speakeasy-style bar after hours.
"We wanted it to feel kind of hidden, and kind of excluded. We wanted people to walk by and think that it's just a closed bakery or an antique shop,” chef and co-founder Ken Myszka said. “The guests that engage with us and who are fans of the experiences that we have been able to craft can push beyond the marketplace and enter this, like, kind of new restaurant world."
From the outside, the Bakery & Pickle looks like a closed-up antique shop. Come by at the right time and it’s a bakery front with fresh bread and seasonal pickles, but otherwise it appears abandoned.
There’s paper in the front windows concealing the dining area and trick doors hidden between shelves. There are no flashing “open” signs, no signs of activity from the passerby perspective. But, Myszka explained, with a curious eye and cell phone, one might be able to score the password.
“It's almost like the front of the bakery is a different business than the speakeasy supper club, and you have to know about it to get in and it probably wouldn't have worked any other way,” co-founder and chef Stu Hummel said. “If the storefront were just a restaurant where you could enter a vestibule to a host stand into a restaurant, you wouldn't be able to create this really special, exclusive feel.”
Myszka said Bakery & Pickle allows him and Hummel to get creative in their menu and the dining process.
“You're going to walk into the space and instantly you're going to have a cocktail in your hand. Instantly you're going to get bites of food. Right away you're going to meet the server at the bar area,” Myszka said. “You're standing up, you're talking to them, they're going to explain the cocktail program, explain what we're doing, you order your beverage and then you go to your table.”
From there, patrons will be introduced to an upscale, customizable menu while they take in the rest of Bakery & Pickle’s 1920s inspired decor.
With two universities in town, Myszka said he hopes that Bakery & Pickle will bring class to the Downtown Bloomington after-hours scene.
“Every bar you go to downtown, you have that wave of Uber drivers and college students and buses ... each bar is just completely flooded with people and they take advantage of that and then the byproduct of that is a very unsafe, dangerous, sticky, dirty, smelly, overcrowded location,” he explained.
Myszka said Bakery & Pickle can be a “secret little oasis” for local business professionals after work and late night. Though he said the password model isn’t specifically engineered to keep the newly 21 crowd out, it doesn’t exactly help.
“What's going to be funny, is they're not going to know how to get in. And what we've asked them to do is just simply engage,” he said. “So there's a phone number for the space, you can't call it. You'll get a voicemail that says we don't answer it. You've gotta send a text message.”
A text message with the customer’s full name, email address, party size, and date and time requested for the reservation is the first step. From there, a text exchange with a Bakery & Pickle staff member will wind down to one reservation date and one password.
Don’t get too excited: The password is different for everyone, and only Bakery & Pickle staff know which passwords are allowed each night.
So far reservations are only for Bakery & Pickle’s dining experience, but passwords are still needed for after-hours drinks at the speakeasy.
The phone number to text? Well, that requires a bit of searching.
Bakery & Pickle is Epiphany Farms’ fourth restaurant. Those preceding include its flagship Epiphany Farms restaurant, Anju Above, and Old Bank, all featuring various specialties and food types.
“Operating restaurants is one of the most challenging things that I think anybody can take on ... but we want to be able to offer different experiences in completely different concepts to the community rather than having the cookie-cutter Italian restaurant that you see popping up every other weekend. Epiphany Farms is all about creating experiences and selling a feeling rather than just food,” Hummel said.
Myszka said he and fellow “Chefarmer” Hummel decided early on to focus on organic, sustainable, regenerative farming. With that comes a variety of crops as well as using as much of the farm as possible—or as Myszka said it, using the animal from “nose to tail.”
The more restaurant concepts, he said, the more opportunities to plant a diverse landscape and to utilize as much of the animal as possible. For example, Myszka said Epiphany Farms serves a seasonal pork feature, but the pork belly might be used in a ramen at one of their other restaurants. It all plays into their farming model.
Bakery & Pickle’s more creative menu allows for Myszka and Hummel to experiment with parts of the animal that might not be widely accepted at more traditional restaurants.
All of Epiphany’s ventures are centrally located around Bloomington-Normal. Myszka said there’s a reason for that.
“We're in these old buildings.I think this building was like 1905, and Epiphany is 1902, the Old Bank in Leroy was 1919, and so giving them new energy, but since you're not designing the buildout around the concept, you have to kind of reverse it,” he said. “You have to live in the space, understand the space, figure out what the space is really playing towards, and then execute the process.”
Myszka said Epiphany tries to upscale the buildings they inhabit while also sticking to traditional techniques, much like their approach to farming.
“Epiphany Farms represents something that we truly care about, and that's being stewards of the land as well as being awesome culinarians and creating these awesome experiences for people ... and that's the most important thing in my life, in my opinion, is to really stand behind something that we feel proud of and to educate people on their food choices.”
Hummel said educating their customers on the importance of where they spend their food dollars is another important step of the process for Epiphany and the support of small businesses.
Hummel said small restaurants like Bakery & Pickle and the recently opened Nightshop bring much needed life to the Downtown Bloomington food scene.
“I think that we can bring a lot of action and life to this space,” Hummel said. “We need more commerce. We need more small business.”
Bakery & Pickle moved into the old Lancaster’s space, the fine dining establishment catering to Bloomington-Normal’s business class that closed its doors four years ago. Hummel and Myszka hope to capitalize on that location by catering to a similar crowd.
The Service Model
Perhaps an ode to the century celebration of the Roaring 20s, Myszka said speakeasy-style restaurants and bars are popping up all over the world.
"It's a global trend now. We were just visiting in Korea last year and there's multiple speakeasies that are popping up. And it's kind of cool that it's coming back. It's interesting. I think nowadays it's not just about a meal to fill my stomach and then go do something entertaining. The meal is becoming more of the experience.”
Myszka said customers are now paying for a good time, which fits directly into Epiphany’s brand of providing patrons with an “experience” rather than just a meal.
Customers in the 21st century are paying for not only the food, but for a good time, laughter, and a cool place to be, Myszka explained.
“There's an experience to be had with Epiphany and us creating the Bakery & Pickle has been for our loyalists of Epiphany Farms,” Hummel said. “When you know us, especially personally, when you know our staff, when you know our restaurant, we created this for the people that have supported us for the last X amount of years.”
Hummel sees the future of Epiphany restaurants as a destination for tourists.
“I think that very soon we're going to have people coming down from Chicago to do the, not the bar crawl, but the restaurant crawl of Old Bank for brunch into Anju for lunch, Epiphany, and late-night speakeasy,” Hummel said. “We can accommodate a pretty serious, a substantial four-stop destination experience here in Bloomington.”
The Bakery & Pickle is now accepting reservations for their dining “experience” both online and via text. But to get in late hours you’ll have to score the phone number.
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