From “the thumb” of Michigan in Lapeer, Ellie Gibbons was born with baking in her blood. I’m serious, this inspiring lady was destined to become the passionate baking machine that she is today! Ellie’s family immigrated from Germany and started a bakery on Kercheval Avenue in the West Village of Detroit. “I didn’t find out till six months into working here, when my aunt emailed me a picture of my great-great-grandfather, he came here from Germany, and they lived above their bakery in Detroit. I’m not sure what all they made, but I do know that my grandmother was a big fan of Pecan Pie, so I’m sure that love started there.”
With roots in baking, it’s no surprise that Ellie was on her way to becoming a well-rounded baking queen. “I learned the mix shift right after I started, its a really labor intensive and it’s a very detail oriented job. I got a good feel for how the doughs develop. I transitioned back to the bench last year, and then started baking at the ovens. So mixing would be my specialty for now and I’m working on the baking bread aspect. I also love doing cakes, I was a cake decorator at in a previous job and I actually did my brother and my niece’s weddings which was pretty cool! Outside of work cake decorating is probably my favorite thing to do.”
A self-described “late-bloomer,” Ellie started her path to Zingerman’s later than she would have liked. Regardless of how long it took her to get here, we’re so glad this is where she ended up! “I’ve worked here since April of 2015, so it will be three years in a couple months! I love it here and I love baking. My mom was a from-scratch baker, she was a homemaker and she made everything from scratch. I’ve always loved food but I was a little bit of a late bloomer when it came to actually making it a career. I had just graduated from the two-year program at Washtenaw Community College before I got hired in here. So it was sort of a change of life kind of transition for me which was really cool.”
Through her classes from Washtenaw Community College Ellie got a sneak peek into the bakehouse experience, which helped shaped her decision to work here.“ We came here to the Bakehouse on a tour for one of my classes. We sampled the rye bread. I used to hate rye bread, but I tried ours here and it was amazing! So they really turned me on to it and after that, I thought, alright, when I graduate this is where I want to work, so it was a really awesome experience. What made me want to work here was seeing the great food being made and tasting the food. I knew that we were doing something right when I tasted a bread I usually hate and I loved it.”
With experience in many areas I thought it would be hard for Ellie to answer what she loves best about working here, she surprisingly answered pretty much right away, and very enthusiastically as well! “ What I love best about working here now is really getting in there and baking at the big ovens! That’s the best. It’s hard work and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really like to be able to go from the bench and shaping to actually taking the bread to the oven, baking it and seeing it come out, and really getting to apply my skills. I really love that.”
While she started her career later than she would have liked, she has no regrets, and encourages others to do what they love just like she did. “Follow your dreams! I used to work retail for a big box store and sort of jobs like that took up the majority of my 20’s and I didn’t really make the decision to start to do anything with food till I was 28. That’s when I started school. It’s never too late to do what you want to do. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you want to do it and you have the opportunity just go for it. I have no regrets and I work for a really great company so it turned out really awesome.” The Bakehouse is very lucky to have this passionate and driven woman working with us!
Getting To Know Ellie
Do you have a favorite family recipe?
“Chocolate chip cookies are quintessentially my Mom. It’s so funny the recipes from the 1968 Betty Crocker cookbook but I’ve been able to play around with it to make it my own. After learning a lot about baking I’ve been able to tweak it and make them SUPER good.”
Favorite thing to bake?
“My favorite bread to bake at work is the French Baguette, I also really like eating French Baguettes. I could eat them every day. I love the smell after it comes out of the oven, it’s almost like a toasty cereal smell, its sooo good.”
Favorite thing to eat?
“My favorite thing to eat at the Bakehouse is the apricot hamantaschen. They are amazing. And then rugelach is also really awesome and pretty much any pastry that I can shove in my face is really great!”
What have you learned working here?
“I’ve learned a lot about teamwork. Usually, I can be a go it alone type person, but it’s really great to be a part of a team that is well developed, reliable, and everyone is on the same page.
Then everything I learned about making bread- how time sensitive it is, how to know if it’s proofed enough to put it in the oven, whether the mix has the right amount of water.”
Tell me about your work with Great Food Group
“The great food group is a Zingerman’s staff workgroup that promotes the bottom line of great food. We do tastings at every meeting of new foods that are developed. We also organize events for when food producers visit us or we visit them. We just went to Bon Bon Bon in Detroit, it was a really awesome experience. We got to do a little class there, and we got a tour of their production facility in Hamtramck. I loved it, it was so fun! Really it’s about making sure everyone is excited about the new food we’re making and selling in the zcob, and making sure the stuff that we make and sell stays great.”
What’s next for you?
“The next thing I’m going to learn is the rye bake which is really one of the biggest ones. I would like to be a supervisor in bread someday. If the opportunity were to come up where I could transition into different departments that would be really cool! Baking pastries, making cakes, I would love to do any of those things.”
You’ll be a master of everything!
By Kelly Zelna, Bakehouse