Annemarie Maitri Blooms Where She’s Planted
By Susan Gloss | Photo By Jim Klousia 2
Inside Bloom Bake Shop, a little boy leans on the display case and surveys the rows of cupcakes, brownies and cookies. When he steps away, he leaves fingerprints on the glass. Owner Annemarie Maitri doesn’t rush to wipe them away. “We smile at the end of the day at all the different-sized handprints up and down the bakery case,” she says.
The display case itself, not just the confections inside, is a work of art. Custom-crafted from locally-sourced wood, the case is the ideal stage for Bloom’s ever-changing array of sweets. Still, Annemarie isn’t afraid to let kids put their palms against it. Children have been an essential ingredient of her Middleton bakery’s success.
Annemarie’s three kids were the original tasters for her classic vanilla cupcake. When she was trying out recipes for the bakery, her children would come downstairs each morning to see an unfrosted vanilla cupcake on the breakfast table. They’d break open and smell the cupcake before tasting it. As Annemarie got closer to perfecting the butter-based recipe she’d eventually adopt for Bloom, her kids would say, “Mom, you’re almost there.”
And, indeed, Annemarie and Bloom Bake Shop have arrived on the local dessert scene in a fast and furious way. Although she opened her doors only two years ago, in February of 2010, already Annemarie and her staff are catering desserts for eighty-five weddings a year, in addition to the five days a week the shop is open. Add holiday orders and special events to that calendar, and you’re looking at one bustling little bakery.
Despite how busy Bloom has become, Annemarie subscribes to a “slow food” mentality, baking in small batches throughout the day. What’s on the menu depends on what’s in season locally.
“The farmers market is my inspiration,” Annemarie says. “My staff and I are constantly thinking about creative ways to highlight the best of what ingredients are available.”
For instance, Annemarie spent most of last summer perfecting her fruit cobbler recipe. She wanted it to be reminiscent of something simmering in a cast-iron skillet, and she wasn’t satisfied until she felt she had captured that flavor and feeling in a cupcake. The recipe she chose, which carries just a touch of tartness and crunch, can be adapted to incorporate whatever fruit happens to be in season.
Annemarie’s baking isn’t the only aspect of her life that has adapted. Her career path has changed a lot, too. After obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Annemarie worked in the worlds of non-profits and pharmaceutical sales. She also spent a few years at home with her kids before the idea for Bloom began to take shape.
“I knew I wanted to start a business, and when I started thinking about what kind of business it would be, there were two things I knew it had to incorporate,” she says. “Number one was dessert and number two was my passion for farm-to-table food.”
Annemarie realizes, though, that it’s one thing to love to bake and it’s another thing to know if the numbers, business plan and other practicalities will work out. Before she committed to opening a bakery, she wanted to experience the inner-workings of one firsthand.
Through the organization Vocation Vacations, (now called Pivot Planet) started by Madison native Brian Kurth, Annemarie connected with the owners of a bakery called the Pink Cupcake in Ohio, and spent a very busy weekend working there during wedding season. After spending 16-hour days baking, she proved to herself that she had what it takes to do it on a professional level.
Food has always been a significant part of Annemarie’s life, so it makes sense that she eventually chose a culinary career. She grew up in Louisiana where, she says, “Food is a religion.” Her mother cooked family dinners from scratch every evening, and her father referred to James Beard with such frequency and affection that Annemarie thought the famed chef was a relative.
“When I was a kid, I loved organizing the pantry,” Annemarie says. “People would come over and I’d be making beignets. I’m not sure I should have been trusted with a pot of hot oil, but we won’t think about that.”
It wasn’t until Annemarie moved to Wisconsin as an adult that her passion for sustainable and seasonal eating really began to take root.
“Wisconsin broke me wide open,” she says. She saw that with the region’s abundant access to agriculture comes an opportunity for understanding where our food comes from. That awareness has found its way into her baking and her business practices.
Annemarie uses organic ingredients, and she sources the majority of those ingredients locally. Flour comes from Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock. Eggs are from Pecatonica Valley Farm, and all dairy products come from Organic Valley, based in La Farge. By sourcing her ingredients locally and organically whenever possible, Annemarie hopes she can inspire other businesses to do the same.
“Organic and expensive don’t have to be synonymous,” she says.
Bloom’s commitment to local food extends beyond its doors and into the community. Extra products at the end of the day are donated to local charities, such as the Goodman Center and Gilda’s Club. The bakery also serves as a pick up location for two community supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farms, as well as a honey CSA called Mad Urban Bees. A point of pride for Annemarie is that she helped Yumbutter, a local handmade peanut butter company, get off the ground by providing work space and incorporating its products into her menu.
Annemarie’s commitment to other small businesses was born, in part, from all the guidance she received when Bloom was starting out. For example, Madison chocolatier Gail Ambrosius put Annemarie in touch with a purveyor that helped her locate sustainably-farmed, single-origin chocolate to use in her baked goods. The crew from Just Coffee in Madison worked through rounds of taste testing and created the custom Bloom Blend she sells.
It’s this willingness to share information and resources that stands out for Annemarie as she reflects on the whirlwind of the last couple of years. She fondly remembers how when Bloom first opened, Faton and Jerry Lumani, the owners of Villa Dolce restaurant next door, told their wait staff one night to send diners over to Bloom after their meals instead of ordering dessert. Annemarie will never forget this act of generosity.
“They easily could have treated me as competition,” Annemarie says. “Instead, they helped me.”
Now, with a busy bakery to run, Annemarie doesn’t have much time to sit back and reflect. She does most of her thinking during trail runs which, along with the sugar served up in her treats, keep her energy level high.
“I was thinking during my last run that I wouldn’t change a thing about my path because, from each of those experiences, I learned something,” she says. “I remember a mug I got as a gift when I was a kid. It said, ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’”
And as customers come in and out of the sunny bake shop on the corner of Parmenter Street and Elmwood Avenue toting bags of pastries and cups of coffee, it’s evident that Annemarie has, indeed, bloomed here.
Editor's Note: This article was updated in November 2014 to change Annemarie's last name from Spitznagle to Maitri.