Obsessions: 3 Young Foodie Entrepreneurs in Northern Michigan

Young energy, clear vision and passion for a food ideal propel the entrepreneurs behind these local businesses in Traverse City and Petoskey. Get to know the next generation of foodies in Northern Michigan.

This article is featured in the special Food Issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy here for 40 must-try local eats.


BITE INTO: Baked by Josephine

First, a clarification. Macaroons (two o’s): Flour, coconut, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract. Blend, dollop, bake. Start to finish: 25 minutes. That’s not what Josephine Brown, of Baked by Josephine, bakes and sells. Josephine Brown makes macarons (one o): Beautiful, delicate, airy, meringuey miracles of subtle sweetness that stand poised at the pinnacle of French confection, creations that require an effort and commitment to perfection that is … well … we’ll let her tell it.

Josephine: I had been baking for family and friends and was kind of bored with what I had been making, and that’s when I started to get into French macarons and tried to perfect them. That was about five years ago, when my husband and I were living downstate.

The first macaron I bit into was from a bakery near my house. I remember thinking it had way too much butter cream in it. I had to scrape it out to try the shell. I was disappointed because the filling was distracting, but the macaron was pretty, and I was excited to be holding it.

Then I Googled to find every bakery nearby that made macarons and went to taste them. Some I hated. Some were dry. Some tasted like pure sugar. Some had way too much filling—that stinks.

Then I studied them for two months. I went online and read a lot about them, about correct and incorrect ways to make them and how you can mess them up. Eventually I decided to go for it, and the first batch was perfect. The color was peach, and I filled them with a peach preserve, because it was peach season downstate.

But then my second batch was not perfect. And for the next three months none would turn out. They would be overcooked or not cooked enough or not raised right, the shell would be too thin, the feet would not be done properly. So I went back to reading everything I could about what can affect the macaron.

My husband has been so supportive of me because he knows how much I enjoy making macarons. One time he brought home bulk almond flour and all the right tools and a notebook where I could write down what I did with every batch. He said, “Okay, now you can’t blame it on the tools.” And that notebook is still something I like to look back on.

Even after we moved Up North about four years ago—my husband got a job as I.T. director at Short’s Brewing—and I had been making them a while, I had a stretch where they weren’t turning out and I was like, screw this. I don’t need to be making these. But I kept going. The bad stretches are way less common now.

It’s intense. When I’m making macarons, I can’t look away because I need to be constantly aware of the process. I have really gotten to know the batter and how it should look. If the egg whites are not doing what they’re supposed to do. Or if I use a little too much almond flour, or it’s too thick, I’ll just scratch it because I know this is not going to work.

foodie entrepreneursI don’t eat many macarons now. I’ll just take a bite to taste it and then throw the rest away. It’s the art of making them I love more than the eating. I love the subtle imperfections of each of them. Each one is different: the shell, the feet—that’s the little ruffly part—the filling. I’m a graphic designer, and I credit my creative side for my obsession with the macaron. It is so interesting and beautiful, and I wanted to bake things that challenged me, and I accepted the challenge.

I want to go to Paris, to see people making macarons where it is the real deal. I know there are ways to improve and I’d see it, right there, where they do it for a living. That would be awesome.

Macarons are my flagship product, but I recently expanded what I offer. I had a lot of people getting married here and asking for macarons, but also asking for other desserts. Dessert bars with a lot of options are what’s in right now. I’m already almost booked through 2017. Looking ahead, I want to provide care and quality and attention to detail and enjoy it and make sure everything is beautiful and tastes good.

My favorite flavor … it always comes back to lemon basil.


TASTE FRESH: White on Rice

Traverse Citians could hardly believe their good fortune: sublime sushi from a food truck, right there in the parking lot at The Little Fleet. We asked proprietors Eric and Amy Kolden to explain how that tasty and legit addition to our food scene came to fruition.

Eric: I was in school for music performance, at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. I was addicted to the bass trombone. It was my life since junior high. But I’d also been working in kitchens during summers and holidays since I was 15 in Traverse City and then in Cincinnati during college.

At one point, in Cincinnati, when I was working at a basic cook job, I went to eat at a really nice sushi bar, and it was like, Wow! Look at this. Their technical skills, and the respect and the dynamic between the guests and the people working, and the taste of the food, it was incomparable. I said, this is where I’m going to go, and applied and got a job there. I worked my way up to the sushi bar. I did that for a little over two years, an apprenticeship.

I came back to Traverse City, and after about six months, Red Ginger opened. They took me on, and within a short period I was the sushi chef and worked there for five years or more. During that time I met Amy, who is also from Traverse City, and we knew we wanted to stay here.

Amy: In December 2014 we launched White on Rice and were in The Little Fleet, inside. And then we had our food truck at The Little Fleet in spring of 2015. It was just the two of us and no staff, but a lot of family help … a lot! But as that summer season wrapped up, we knew we needed a place to work out of. And we searched and hunted and searched and we saw this place [the restaurant on 14th Street] was available.

Eric: We decided to turn it into a takeout concept with a potential for delivery, and it would be the commissary operation for the food truck. I remember it was mid-March, our first day, and it was such a great moment to say, “We have brick and mortar.”

As for the ingredients, we have a different concept of what rice is in America. It’s a side dish here, but in other parts of the world, rice is the main course. One of my mentors once said to me, “Rice is power.” Rice is the single thread that runs through all the types of sushi you eat. No matter what type of sushi we make, we want to respect the rice. It’s a huge component of what we do.

Amy: There is another part of our business model, some educational spearheading going on. For one, sushi doesn’t mean raw fish. Sushi is the rice. We have transformed so many people. My parents, his parents. People say, I had no idea it would be this good, and they get beyond the perception that they will be eating raw fish.

Eric: Even though we keep things approachable and spearhead education for people, we also have many things for advanced sushi aficionados. I get as much whole fresh fish as possible and we serve nigiri and sashimi as well as rolls. Our mission is to serve a high-quality product with the best ingredients we can source to a varied audience, from children to those new to sushi to our many regulars that have lived all over the world. Everyday sushi is what we hope to promote with White on Rice.

Amy: The quality of the fish we source is outstanding—the red snapper and tuna and hamachi. On any day Eric is breaking down whole fish, and he’s on the phone with the purveyors three or four days a week. It’s just part of the regular background sound. He’s saying, “I need this fish, I need this quality. I love this. This is awesome fish.”

Eric: You can take so much from that movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi [about a perfectionist sushi chef]. You can see what they are doing, and I can say, I can adopt this energy toward the food. The idea is they have tremendous attention and passion, and like them, we are always trying to make it better. The next day it has to be better. It can’t be less. It has to be better, and you have to fulfill that on a daily basis.

Next we’ll be adding delivery, doing more parties and catering and expanding the menu. Beyond sushi, we have our signature ramen bowl, salad, and a Japanese curry that has become a staple for our customers.


DRINK UP: Dripworks Coffee

Danielle Charles and Mike Davies met in a “Celts and Nature” class at North Central Michigan College when they were both still teenagers. In the years ahead they stayed together and traveled around, she going to various colleges, he doing odd jobs. Nine years later the Celtic class teacher married them, and in 2014, fresh from England, they opened Petoskey’s Dripworks Coffee, a cafe offering artisan coffees and pastries.

Danielle Charles: We were living in England and I was going to grad school for writing – living there and experiencing the culture. We had talked about opening a teahouse, but then he became obsessed with drinking coffee and I jumped on the bandwagon. And by the time I was done with school, we knew we wanted to return to our home town and open a cafe. We’d go to all these cafes and look at their signs and everything and be, you know, “Oh, look at this …”

Mike Davies: Originally we were thinking maybe an organic donut shop, but it evolved into this. We wanted to achieve a cafe with artisan baked goods, but not a pretentious cafe. We really wanted a place that felt unique, hand made to the space that fit the things being served. We wanted something that felt like you couldn’t easily find a cafe like this somewhere else. And the service aspect is a big one. We wanted something that didn’t feel like you would throw it away when you leave. It would be an experience to hang onto, a nice place.

Danielle: And we wanted it to be fun. Our employees come here and hang out on their days off. I never guessed that would happen. And it’s really meaningful.

Mike: So we figured we would create a business plan, run some numbers, see if it’s possible. But spacewise, nothing was available in downtown Petoskey. But then this opened up. It had been a nature gift shop and had tree branches stapled to the walls. And we walked in and immediately envisioned what was possible. It was affordable and in a good part of town.

Danielle: We are both control freaks and perfectionists. We built everything ourselves and did our own branding. But it’s nice to know we created everything and got exactly what we were going for. We started work April 1, 2016, and the goal was to be open on Memorial Day. And we quickly realized that was not going to happen. The scariest moment was one day seeing Mike with a jackhammer standing in a pile of rubble, because he had to jackhammer the floor to be able to run pipes through it. We opened mid-June, missing Memorial Day by just a couple of weeks.

Mike: We wanted to be purists when we opened, but we have bent a little bit. For example, when we opened, we had this drinking chocolate made with super expensive chocolate. But it just never took off. People really will only spend so much. And we were against any flavored coffee syrups, but then we decided to make our own vanilla bean infusion. We had to figure how can we make enough to survive and not let our dreams blow away at the same time.

Danielle: We still don’t serve dark roast coffee, and we’ve had to get really good at talking about why. The roasters we use are direct trade. The farmers are choosing heirloom varieties that are harder to grow, but have unique flavors, and when you roast it dark, it obliterates those flavors. Dark roasts are usually just a way to mask the flavor of poor quality beans. Most people when they say they want dark roast really mean they want a flavorful cup of coffee.

Mike: We drive in together every morning, and I start baking at 6 a.m. I work in the back, in the kitchen, and she works in the front. We’ve tried a few different things—expanding the menu in different ways—but we’ve decided it was okay to stick with the original vision and make a few things, and do them really well. We use quality ingredients, like Shetler’s butter and European artisan flour. And we focus on croissant-based things and baked donuts. The fun thing about baking is there’s still enough mystery that it keeps you humble.

Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse/MyNorth | Courtney Kent is one half of The Compass Points Here, a photography and videography company based in Traverse City


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