Even if you don't know her, you probably know Sarah Botcher's baked goods.
Conceived at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Nicollet Mall in 2013, Botcher’s Black Walnut Bakery has come a long way in a short time. She’s the main supplier to all five Spyhouse Coffee cafes and One On One Bicycle Studio. She works essentially every day, with the exception of Christmas (and then, she only stops because the stores that sell her pastries are closed). It’s a commitment that each day gets her one step closer to the ultimate goal: opening a storefront of her own.
“I've always wanted to have my own business, and it's been a path that I've been on for a long time,” she says.
Botcher’s entanglement with baking started early. “I just love croissants,” she says. “It's always just been this obsession: making them, wanting to do production, learning, and just the fascination of how technical they are.” Botcher's grandfather was a baker, and by happenstance, his bakery was across the street from Cafe Levain, the first kitchen she ever worked in. (Incidentally, the first chef she worked under was the renowned Steven Brown, now at Tilia -- “one of the biggest cooking talents this town has ever produced,” if you ask James Beard Award-winning critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl.) Botcher's primary specialty lies in viennoiserie (pronounced vehn-wha-szree), “things of Vienna,” or sweeter, richer baked goods involving yeast.
It wasn’t just her grandfather; growing up, her father loved to bring home baked goods. “I grew up, like every Sunday—it would be doughnuts sometimes, always croissants,” she says. Today, her dad seems just as invested in pastries, sometimes joining Botcher in her crack-of-dawn deliveries.
Working the overnight shift and trying to help her business grow hasn't been easy. “It's always been challenging to find people that want to work the hours that I work … It's an alternate lifestyle,” says Botcher. “An alternate universe, I think.”
And it's been made all the more challenging due to the fact that, until now, Black Walnut has been a one-woman show. But for the first time, Botcher’s getting some help thanks to the recent addition of two production bakers. A welcome change, no doubt, as in addition to doing the baking and deliveries, Botcher also runs the business. “Now we gear up for the next phase, which is growing,” she says.
A part of growth has been mastering the art of production baking, which can be understood as “not just making a dozen cookies here, 20 croissants there; you're in the hundreds.” It all adds up to Botcher baking more than 10,000 pastries a month. Her baking operation is seven days a week, in addition to her doing the administrative work, and the dishes (always by hand).
Having been influenced by her time at the renowned Tartine Bakery in the Bay Area, Botcher still reflects daily on the core values she learned there. An early at-home inspiration, in fact, was Tartine co-founder Liz Prueitt's cookbook Tartine: Sweet and Savory Pastries, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, Croissants, Cookies, and Confections. Since she followed them long before working there, Botcher took to heart their work ethic and techniques.
“If you want to learn something, you have to apply yourself,” Botcher says. “And it's not an easy endeavor to do when you see your failure every day, and I say that because baking is very challenging. But that's what I love about it.”