May 29, 2023
The bird is the word (and the owner) at this new Union Grove bakery
Melissa Wandrey prepares cake pops. UNION GROVE — One afternoon when she was 3
Melissa Wandrey prepares cake pops.
UNION GROVE — One afternoon when she was 3 years old, Melissa Wandrey escaped from her mother. She was eventually found, but her mom had to lure her out of a tree with a cookie.
Wandrey's mother started calling her "Lissa Bird." By the time she was 16, the nickname had been shortened to just "Bird." Everybody still calls Wandrey "Bird." Her fiancé, Christopher Poeschel, didn't even know her real name until their third month of dating.
So, when Wandrey got the opportunity to open her own bakery, she knew exactly what to call it.
Baking Bird is a new bakery that opened in Union Grove on June 18, but Wandrey is far from new at the baking game. She has 20 years of baking experience, getting her start as a cake decorator at a Piggly Wiggly.
During the pandemic, Wandrey decided to go into business for herself and started making baked goods out of her home. Business was great as she abided by Wisconsin's cottage law, which allows the sale of baked goods out of residences without a permit so long as the food for sale does not have to be refrigerated. With this law limiting the types of things she was able to sell, Wandrey and Poeschel decided to expand.
They found the storefront located at 1013 Main St., a location Wandrey describes as perfect for a small scratch bakery. "Now I can bake all the wonderful things I love to make," she said.
Wandrey and the staff at Baking Bird make nearly everything in the shop from scratch, excluding the melting chocolate used to dip and decorate the sweets. One of the more popular items at the bakery are the cake pops, which come in several varieties like lemon lavender, root beer float and red velvet.
"There's no way of counting, but I have probably made a billion of them," Wandrey said.
One of the more popular items at Baking Bird, 1013 Main St., Union Grove, are the cake pops, which come in several varieties like lemon lavender, root beer float and red velvet.
Other items sold at Baking Bird include cake bars and bagels as well as cinnamon rolls, which the cottage law previously prevented Wandrey from selling due to cream cheese frosting.
The front of the store also has an herb garden, which is used for recipes like savory scones and bagels. Wandrey is also hoping to utilize the homegrown herbs when she introduces new items, like focaccia bread, into the lineup in the future.
Wandrey's favorite thing to make at the bakery, besides the baked goods she is known for, is the cheesecake. The people of Union Grove have made it clear that the most popular flavor, Key lime, needs to always be on hand.
"People get very upset if we run out of Key lime," Wandrey said.
Wandrey says she plans to set up a suggestion board at the front of the store soon, so people can suggest different flavors to experiment with.
Baking Bird's avian theme doesn't end with its name. The bakery is decorated in all things bird, from framed prints of birds to egg-shaped hanging chairs. The most important decorations in Baking Bird are several mini wooden birdhouses, hanging from a painted mural of two trees with purple shading.In December, business was starting to pick up for Wandrey. That's also when the family found out that their eldest son, CJ, had been diagnosed with leukemia.
From left: CJ, Christopher, and Nathan Poeschel.
The news changed things for the business, specifically how to hand off the food. When residents of Union Grove heard about the diagnosis, they rallied together for the family, donating gas cards, groceries and gallons of hand sanitizer.
It was "just a tremendous outpour of support when we were literally going through the worst," Wandrey said.
Melissa "Bird" Wandrey sits Thursday in one of the egg shaped hanging chairs at Baking Bird, 1013 Main St., Union Grove.
In an act of paying it forward through Baking Bird, customers can pick up a small wooden birdhouse and pay any amount of cash they wish into a money box shaped like a birdhouse created by Poeschel. After decorating the birdhouses at home however they wish, the customers can come back to Baking Bird and hang them on the mural painted by Rob Roberts, who is a cancer survivor.
"I have heard so many beautiful stories, because we have all been affected one way or another," Wandrey said. "We all known somebody or have had a family member who has had cancer. The trees are a loving remembrance, because obviously we have lost some and we have a lot of people who are still fighting. It's really rewarding because we have people who come back in with their kids and they’re here to show grandma and grandpa their house, and the level of creativity is through the roof."
All of the proceeds from the birdhouses go to a different cancer association or foundation, or the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund, every month, the latter being a big help to Wandrey and her family since CJ's diagnosis.
While she is also looking for new recipes and creations to bring to Baking Bird, Melissa Wandrey is also always looking for other local businesses and people to collaborate with. One example of this is the recent addition of jewelry from area seller Sugar Junkie Creations and a special coffee blend with Milwaukee-based Anodyne Coffee.
"We're a small businesses and were all about collaborating with other small businesses and utilizing local as much as possible," Wandrey said. "We have had a lot of interest from a lot of our neighbors, this community has really rallied together to give Union Grove that boost that we need to make us an alive downtown again."
Currently working with Wandrey is Sarah Mount, who Wandrey recently hired as a manager, and Wandrey's 16-year-old stepson Nathan.
Nathan, who works full time at Baking Bird during the summer, is also an avid baker. Having taken a few food-focused classes at Union Grove High School, Nathan also helped Wandrey at home on his spare time.
Wandrey said that with the experiences he has had working at the bakery over the summer, Nathan is going to be at the top of his cooking classes this upcoming year.
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Reporter - Photographer
Raised just outside of McHenry, Illinois, Alex is the business reporter and staff photographer for The Journal Times. He considers himself a Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen all-in-one. Alex is a graduate of SIUC in Carbondale, Illinois. Twitter: @arodatjt
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