Between 6 and 7am each Saturday, Robb Tobias stocks shelves, counters and cases full to bursting at the Pekara Bakery stand at Soulard Farmers Market. Sliced breads, quick breads and baguettes, German-style pretzels, croissants, cookies and European-style pastries tumble side-by-side.
The bakery’s stand is located in a big stall at the far end of the Southeast wing nearest the door, but by 3 or 4pm, Pekara sells out each Saturday at Soulard Farmers Market, where they've been since October 2013. This season, however, you’ll find mini-stands at Clayton and Kirkwood farmers markets as well.
Shop early for goodies sweet and savory. A little before 7am, when the market is waking up and the shoppers are few, is a great time to find breakfasts you can take in hand and stroll the market, including peach croissants, cinnamon buns, scones, cookies and rolls.
A savory Caprese focaccia replete with fresh tomatoes, basil and cheeses beckons from the glass cases. Sales manager Robb Thomas slices good-sized pieces from giant blocks of three focaccia breads laced with buttery olive oil, herbs, sea salt and more.
“We made these big focaccias to sample and customers at the market loved it," he says. "Now we cut the big slab into pieces, stack them in the case and sell them all day long until we run out."
“Soulard is our biggest stand,” Tobias says. “We have the full array of breads, German pretzels and European pastries here. Our stand at Clayton Farmers' Market is primarily breads and German pretzels. We’ve got a small assortment of croissants and pastries at Kirkwood, but you’ll find our full line at Soulard.”
The bakery’s market exposure has garnered attention from local chefs as well. “We’ve got products in a few restaurants,” Tobias says. “We’re looking to develop our wholesale restaurant business. Next steps for us would be to open a bake-house in Missouri so we could deliver to restaurants daily.”
The breads, buns, scones, croissants and pastries are all made using traditional methods and the finest ingredients. Cinnamon buns, galettes, sugar cookies shaped like baseballs and croissants in either plain or chocolate wait in glass cases. Tobias letters names and prices on the front of the glass cases in sharp white marker.
German-style pretzels in sticks fat and in the traditional bent shape are market-customer favorites. Look for pretzel breads in plain loaves or topped-out with as pretzel pizzas, a tasty take on an old favorite.
The mother ship, Pekara Bakehouse, is located in Champaign, Illinois, where the company also operates Pekara Bakery and Bistro, a retail bakery and café. Today, the wholesale operation serves restaurants and food service operations from Effingham to St. Louis.
“I was their first wholesale customer in 2004 when I managed a little restaurant and bar,” Tobias says. “Ten years later, I’m part of the company. We added farmers markets to our mix in each of the cities we serve, and it’s been great.”
Pekara is a big operation, but the friendly atmosphere in the tiny corner of Soulard market feels cozy, like a mom-and-pop bakery overflowing with good things. In typical good neighbor style, the bakery honored market benefactor Julia Soulard on her 239th birthday the ninth of August.
A sweet strawberry Champagne cake sculpted with pink rose frosting all around sat like a beacon on the counter. Sweeter still, Soulard customers got a chance to win a Pekara cake just like Julia's for their birthday simply by registering at the stand.
They don’t bring delicate cakes to the market often. Customers can special order them online, however, and pick them up at any of the three St. Louis markets.
Soulard Farmers Market; 730 Carroll St., Southeast wing, booth #89
Hours: Saturdays 7am to sell-out, usually between 3 and 4pm
Sells: Breads, German pretzels and wide assortment of pastries. Soulard is Pekara’s largest booth space.
Clayton Farmers Market; North Central Avenue between Maryland Avenue and Forsyth Boulevard
Breads and German pretzels only
Hours: Thursdays; 4:30 to 7:30pm
Kirkwood Farmers Market; 150 East Argonne Drive
Breads, German pretzels and limited croissants and pastries
Hours: Saturdays; 8am to 1:30pm
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