Rich woods, short counters, big smiles and brimming baskets filled with bagels encourage lingering. Flour hangs in the air long after the last chocolate chip cookies are made, and two little ones scurry around the feet of owners Kyle and Bethany Gerecke.
Bethany grabs the hand of her 3-year-old son, Zion, sighing as she talks about the lack of pour-over coffee or organic baked goods in the area.
“If you’re going between here and St. Louis, it’s really hard to get a good cup of coffee,” she says, watching Zion totter beside her in the bakery. “It kind of ruins you when you start caring about quality.”
Since 2012, the Gereckes have been making bagels and other organic pastries with purpose. But for Kyle, a love of baking began long before he and his wife sold their first boiled creation.
The Rise of Bagels
Kyle has been in the process of making bread for most of his life. When he worked in construction for his father in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, he would bring a petite oven with him to the job site so he could proof bread while on break. He met Bethany in Cape and baked his way into her heart with homemade pizza and handcrafted breads like honey-wheat and sourdough, and the couple married in October 2011.
Their shared love for food led them to open a mobile food cart in Cape, based on a mobile bagel cart they loved in Carbondale, Illinois, called Winston’s Bagels. They called it Mighty Bagel and started selling warm store-bought bagels, grilled using its attached charcoal grill, on the street, emulating Winston’s model. They took the cart to Branson, Missouri, for an event, and their popularity grew as the community became familiar with their bagels.
The Gereckes found a permanent daily location outside a Walgreens in Hollister, Missouri, just south of Branson. Their open-air presence led to local laws being passed regulating and charting the way for a mobile food business like theirs, which was the first to operate in the small town.
The couple went on a quest to find a New York-style bagel when they moved north to Springfield in 2012. When they came up empty handed, Kyle preheated an idea – he’d start making his own organic, healthy bagels and selling them at the Farmers Market of the Ozarks.
“I baked at home a lot and did a lot of breads and things like that, so I decided I’d start making them.” Kyle says. “We made several thousand bagels before I think we made a good one.”
The Gereckes leased a commercial kitchen space at 319 Downtown, an event venue in Springfield, and began selling their bagels at coffee shops and local events.
They’d bake at odd hours, rolling out thousands and thousands of bagels by hand for their cart and new wholesale customers, including Mudhouse Coffee and MaMa Jean’s Natural Market. They kept rolling out the dough at their commercial kitchen until the demand for their bagels exceeded their ability to bake in their leased commercial kitchen space.
The Gereckes found a permanent, physical space to call their own, but it was far from a bakery in its current state. So in the fall of 2013, the couple closed their cart to focus on prepping their strip-mall location to become the fully functioning bakery they envisioned. The two months it took to transition from mobile food cart to bakery was a stressful and expensive period, but thanks to some ingenuity and Kyle’s ability to piece together an oven, the doors finally opened in October 2013.
“For the first year in the shop, we had kind of more of a café, deli-style menu,” Kyle says. “We did made-to-order sandwiches, a few soups.”
“Kale salad, some things that really got people hooked,” Bethany adds, nodding.
“What we learned is that this space isn’t really conducive to that,” says Kyle, gesturing around the 1,600-square-foot bakery. “That’s not our thing. So, about a year into it, we decided to kick that out and do what we should be doing: pastries and bagels. We do fewer things, better, and harken back to our original focus and mission of being a bakery and coffee bar.”
It takes 20 hours and two baking shifts for a single Legacy bagel to be made. From mix to bread basket, the entire process is done by hand. “Like it should be,” Kyle says proudly.
The first step begins in the morning around 8am, when a baker creates the bagel mix that becomes a huge chunk of dough. Then, the baker lays out 50 pounds of dough to then divide into pieces. Next, the baker scales the pieces, ensuring that each one is roughly the same weight.
A massive shaper machine molds the bagels into their round form. The bagels are then set out to proof, or rise – a tricky process.
“To get bagels properly proofed, it’s all a matter of temperature, time, barometric pressure, the moon phase, what your feelings are today, all of that good stuff,” Kyle says. “It takes anywhere from an hour to two sometimes, much longer in the winter.”
Once the bagels have reached their desired size, the afternoon baker then sets the bagels in a refrigerator to retard, or chill, the dough. This step stops the rising process and allows the yeast to ferment the dough overnight.
“That fermentation process overnight gives a more complex flavor to the bagel that pretty much no one else does [in Springfield],” Kyle says. “That’s true New York style, that overnight fermentation process.”
The next morning at roughly 2:30am, another baker turns on the oven and heats water in a 40-gallon kettle. The bagels are then dumped into the massive pot to boil, the other step that makes these truly New York-style bagels. After just a few seconds of boiling, the bagels are removed and topped with ingredients like Asiago cheese, cinnamon and blueberries. They then bake at around 450°F for 15 minutes. Finally, they’re tossed in baskets behind the retail counter or put on a truck for one of two morning delivery rounds, piping hot, at 4:30 and 9am.
Kyle taught himself the bagel-making process through trial and error – mostly. He and Bethany also received guidance from a former New York-style bagelry owner, Tony Tarrasch, who owned the now-closed Bagel Bin in Springfield.
The Gereckes cherish the classical methods of making a great boiled bagel and a handcrafted Jewish pastry.
Bethany and Kyle get asked if they are Jewish all the time, with sufganiyot, rugelach and challah served hot and often, and although they’re not, they expect the question. They simply appreciate the heritage in Judaism, Jewish traditions and of course Jewish food. “I say we were grafted in,” Bethany says.
Today, under Kyle’s direction, two bakers complete the long process to make 20 dozen nearly perfect bagels in 13 flavors six days a week. Customer favorites include Asiago-everything, wild blueberry, plain and poppy, Kyle says. And they’re all topped with housemade cream cheese “schmears” like savory zesty chive or the tangy Garden of Eden, featuring organic bits of carrot, green onion, celery, bell pepper, fresh garlic, dill and crushed red pepper.
“People, when they come here, they feel the love that went into the food,” Kyle says. “It’s not something that came from a box or out of a freezer. Everything is made every day, which I think is one aspect that even though most of our customers don’t know it, they feel it. Subconsciously, they understand that there is a next level to the product that they have.”
Flavors Rich in Tradition
At Legacy, the Gereckes are committed to making things the way they should be made – something they emphasize again and again. Their “doctrinology,” or mission statement, shouts their philosophy in big, bold black letters on a bright white wall inside the bakery.
“A call to use non-GMO, wild and real organic ingredients,” the statement reads. “Nothing artificial or creepy. No additives, no preservatives. Simple. Wholesome. Fresh. We prepare and bake all items on the premises. The way it used to be. The way it should be.”
Bethany glances up at the message as she talks about their commitment to producing organic baked goods.
“This says it all, and we mean it,” she says. “We started to care about quality, organic, non-GMO ingredients when we started having kids, and I wish more people cared about it. But I think a lot of our customers really appreciate it, especially vegans. They can’t find a vegan cake, so they come here [for ours]. And I think people are thankful because we value quality ingredients.”
Wholesome ingredients are a must for all goods at the bakery. But their focus on using natural ingredients only enhances their products’ eclectic flavors.
Jewish donuts, with no holes, are gently coated with powdered sugar or vanilla and chocolate glazes and stuffed with semisweet jam fillings. The moist, flaky treats were recently voted the best in town by Drury University’s The Mirror. Chocolate-walnut or the best-selling cinnamon-pecan babkas are a yeast bread with a crunchy nut filling. Salted-pistachio truffles with steeped pistachios are an unexpected burst of complex, semisweet flavors, as are the recent addition of vegan truffles in decadent flavors such as dark chocolate rolled in coconut, chia seeds, cinnamon or nuts. In December, Legacy started offering take-and-bake frozen doughs of its most popular treats including challah, babka and chocolate chip cookies.
Each handcrafted treat and Jewish pastry was added to their menu when they opened their physical location, but Bethany and Kyle have been experimenting with pastries for years. “When we opened, we decided to make everything we could and liked, so we did,” Bethany says. “We love what we do.”
And like their bagels each morning, the Gereckes need time to proof, or develop, before they make any changes to their current business model. After two years in their Fremont space, this fall the bakery quadrupled its seating, addressing a chronic customer complaint. Its larger dining area allows for a full coffee and espresso bar and the ability to toast or warm customers’ orders in house. Still, the couple hears their customers’ cries for extended hours, new locations and an expanded menu. But they’re in no rush.
“We still want to keep the corner bakery feel,” Kyle says. “This is rather small with just a few seats in here still, but maybe our next location will be a little bit bigger. We’ll see.”
The Gereckes embrace the uniqueness of their corner bakery. But for customers, Kyle hopes their philosophy and the baked goods they serve leave a legacy of more than just good food.
“They’re the real legacy, you know,” Kyle says, gesturing toward his 2-year-old daughter, Orli. “The legacy truly is in the lives of our family, the families of our employees and those traditional items. It’s not just an organic bagel; it’s a meaningful conversation with someone who cares. It’s a connection with a tradition. That matters.”
Legacy Bagelry & Bakery, 3049 S. Fremont Ave., Springfield, Missouri, 417.501.1345, legacybagelry.com
ON THE RISE
Bethany Gerecke uses social media to market Legacy’s Jewish pastries and boiled bagels. The bakery
(@legacybagelry) has more than 1,300 Instagram followers, and Bethany posts or reposts customer photos of her crave-worthy creations nearly everyday, enticing followers to stop in. Recently, Legacy offered a photography class for fans, sharing the knowledge of Legacy baker Brad Dixon, who also works as a photographer. “We’re just a little bakery, but we’re learning as we go,” she says.