Take a bit of cheerfulness a pinch of laughter too
Next, take a cup of thoughtfulness
And add them through and through
Add to this, tranquility, a verse of “Silent Night,”
That ever quiet we may be,
When God sends His Holy light…
“A Christmas Recipe,” Author Unknown
Richmond baker and entrepreneur Michael Hatcher, 49, grew up in Richmond’s North Side. In 1975, when he was a teen, he went to work in the bakery at Thalhimer’s, learning every aspect of baking, even completing a four year bread-baking apprenticeship there. When the department store closed, he brought his talents back to his old neighborhood, where he operated Quality Bake Shop, a city mainstay since 1929, on North Ave. for eight years. Two years ago, he relocated just around the corner, and added the name “Michaela’s,” for his only daughter. Today, customers travel from Hopewell, Petersburg, even Fredericksburg to the butter-yellow storefront at 207 W. Brookland Park Blvd. for baked specialties at Michaela’s Quality Bake Shop.
Two bakery cases tempt customers with a mouthwatering display of fresh cookies, muffins, poundcakes, strawberry shortcake, and pies. Michael also bakes Sally Lunn rolls, Boston cream pie, wedding cakes, and delights for any special occasion.
But Michaela’s may be best known for baking a cake made famous decades ago at Thalhimer’s. “It’s six layers of cake with chocolate fudge in between each layer. I tell you, that recipe has been around for years,” Michael says. “But I just kind of kept it going. Even though Thalhimer’s is long gone, that cake goes on.” During the holidays, the staff at Michaela’s adds black walnut, red velvet, and rum cakes to their production. Michael employs a permanent staff of four and hires extra help during the holidays, when by his estimate, business increases by 75 percent.
“Sometimes we have people lined up outside,” he says. In an era when so many businesses are feeling the pinch, Michael attributes his success to a classic yet all-too-rare formula: “Good customer service and good product too. With a small operation, you’ve got one-on-one service. Basically, we provide a good quality product at a reasonable price.” Michaela’s supplies the sweets for several area cafeterias and restaurants, and one grocery store.
To create their sweet specialties, each staffer at Michaela’s has a unique skill. Tiffany Anderson has worked for Michael for nearly ten years. “Tiffany is a perfectionist decorator,” Michael says.
Each person at Michaela’s also has a particular favorite – maybe even a couple. “The peanut butter cookies and the six-layer cake, those are the two I like to eat all the time,” Tiffany says. William Wingfield, whose preferred sweet here is the Danish, has worked for Michael for seven years. Although he sees enough sugar during the workday to satisfy his sweet tooth most of the time, Michael admits that he occasionally enjoys peanut butter cookies right from the oven.
Sophia Fuell is the newest staffer here, going on her fourth month. She thinks the environment at Michaela’s might be as appealing as what’s in the mixing bowl. “Everyone has a good heart here, real friendly,” she says. “Customers are real personal. It’s one-on-one. It’s a great atmosphere.”
She believes that warmth somehow shines through in the food. “People come from miles away to get his product,” she makes clear. “That’s all they talk about. They come from everywhere.”
Customer loyalty keeps delivery driver Monica Logan busy. Monica, who favors the lemon tarts, says, “I go to Petersburg, to Brandermill, and all in between.”
Like Brookland Park Blvd., loyalty is a two way street. Walk-in traffic is brisk, especially for a cold day of rain, and Michael and the staff greet most who enter by first name. As Tiffany holds open the door for Monica, whose arms are stacked with fresh-baked cakes for delivery, Michael says, “There’s no way possible that I could do it without my staff. Whatever I ask them to do, they’re right there to do it.”
by Cesca Janece Waterfield