A specialty food culture has taken root in Downtown Farmington.
In fact, a semi-monthly craft beer and cheese pairing event – with cheese selected and provided by The Cheese Lady; craft beer made by the hosts, Farmington Brewing Co.; and additional food supplied by Browndog Barlor & Restaurant or Sunflour Bakehaus – regularly sells out.
“We are strong believers in ‘a rising tide raises all the boats,’” says FBC co-owner Jason Hendricks. “We want to see all businesses in downtown Farmington do well.”
Both FBC and The Cheese Lady have been part of downtown Farmington since fall 2014, while Sunflour – originally called Farmington Bakery when Pavlik and co-owner Becky Burns bought the place in 1998 (the name change came in 2007) – has deeper roots.
For this reason, Pavlik has watched baking fad specialty stores come and go (cupcakes, anyone?) while establishing a beloved, enduring neighborhood bakery that regularly stocks the usual breads-and-cookies fare alongside unique specialties.
“I started making King Cakes twenty years ago, when no one around here made them,” says Pavlik, referring to the Mardi Gras seasonal favorite – a cinnamon coffee cake topped with fondant icing and sugar in purple, green and gold. “ … I didn’t want to just do paczkis. … And when Hurricane Katrina hit, … there were some refugees in the area from New Orleans who were like, ‘I can’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d get to have a King Cake this year.’”
Other Sunflour specialties include Swedish limpa bread (rye with anise seed); old world bread, made with just four ingredients (a consistent bestseller); Persian flatbread, made from a recipe inherited from the bakery’s previous owners; and downright addictive German soft pretzels, made fresh each Saturday.
Sunflour owners Becky Burns & Jeff Pavlik. Photo by David Lewinski,
But Sunflour’s also established itself as a helpmeet for nascent local businesses. For instance, the Cheese Lady’s owners, Joe and Kendra Mantey, initially relied on Sunflour’s space and expertise while getting their start at the Farmington Farmer’s Market.
“We let them process their stuff here because we were certified to do that,” says Pavlik. “So we let them use our facilities, and they also bounced ideas off us, so shared what we knew about doing business in town. And one of the brewers (at FBC) – I did his high school graduation cake, and I did his wedding cake, too. So we’ve known each other for a long time.”
Neu Kombucha owner/founder Jennie Neu-Sipkay also spent a good part of her formative years in Farmington; but she started developing her kombucha-brewing skills while working at the Cacao Tree Cafe in Royal Oak.
What drew her to kombucha – a fermented tea drink (with roots in ancient Chinese culture) touted for its health benefits?
“Its nutritional value,” says New-Sipkay, who launched Neu Kombucha in 2015. “But also the fact that it’s part of this ancient tradition. I thought, if it’s been around for that long, it might be something I want to teach myself about.”
Neu Kombucha’s location – tucked away on the side of the building that houses The Rocking Horse (which faces Grand River) – has presented challenges, but having sidewalk signs pointing potential customers in has helped. “And we’re still educating,” Neu-Sipkay says in reference to her product. “Slowly but surely, we’re getting the word out there.”
Neu Kombucha. Photo by David Lewinski,
Neu-Sipkay’s recommended starter kombucha flavor for newbies is her Lavender Lemonade, but there are also flavors like Pineapple Ginger, Super Berry, Tart Cherry Ginseng, and more. “Every year we’ve seen an increase in sales,” says Neu-Sipkay.
Other specialty food destinations in downtown Farmington appear to be thriving, too, including Chive Kitchen, a hugely popular, Portuguese-inspired vegan eatery that opened its doors in 2016; and Browndog, another 2016 addition that combines delicious small-batch ice cream and a full bar – think ice cream cocktails and alcohol-infused ice cream flavors.
The "Flora" mocktail at Chive. Photo by David Lewinski
“Here’s what I think is exciting,” says Pavlik. “Our customer base when we bought the bakery was probably more than fifty percent seniors, and the rest was mostly business people picking up pastries for an early morning meeting at the office. … As the town has grown, we still have those customers, but there are also more families that have made Farmington their town. So now we’re a steady part of many people’s weekly routine.”
“Small towns are the best,” says Hendricks, who noted that a local running group and a dads’ group meet at FBC regularly. “We know many of our regulars. People from small towns have pride in their local communities and show that with their patronage.”
And something Hendricks and the FBC team have learned from their first years in business is a truism that’s been echoed by other local specialty food business owners.
“You need to figure out what to keep and what to change,” says Hendricks. “We have our staples, and it took a while to determine what those were.”