With a new business name, a liquor license and sole ownership of S&J Bakery Café
in Findlay Market
, Stefan Skirtz is about to get even more creative with his offerings. Which is saying something for a baker who already serves a blueberry pancake cupcake with maple buttercream icing and topped with a garnish of chocolate-dipped bacon. Mmmm, bacon.
As his storefront nears its third anniversary at the Over-the-Rhine landmark this May, Skirtz remains dedicated to keeping things local and making a stop at his flourishing shop just one part of a varied market experience.
“The reason why I wanted to come to Findlay Market was to strengthen the Findlay Market experience,” says Skirtz, 44, who grew up in Clifton Heights. “I go out every Saturday and buy our produce for the week.”
Skirtz, who opened the shop with a partner, reports that they spent 96 percent of the capital costs for the business within the 45202 zipcode. After making it through the first year in business, sales doubled in year two. He’s hopeful about the prospects for year three, during which he opened a second location—the S&J Café
in the Main Library downtown.
“The sales have been very strong,” Skirtz says. “It’s given us an opportunity to constantly adapt and adjust.”
Adapting and adjusting comes naturally to the entrepreneur who started his working life far from a kitchen. He worked summers at Kings Island
, then stayed with the park as its owners shifted from Kings Productions to Paramount and Viacom, where he produced live shows and planned events.
But the Cincinnati native, who once again lives in Clifton Heights, grew tired of constant travel. He decided to pursue his lifelong love of cooking at the Midwest Culinary Institute
, where he could turn his hobby into a career.
Skirtz’s theme park background makes him particularly sensitive to his customers’ feedback, which he has already incorporated into his business plans. For example, the dining room section of the Findlay store was intended for storage, but customers enjoyed having a place to sit and enjoy breakfast and lunch so he made the cheerful space permanent.
“People instantly started coming down and starting their Findlay Market experience with us,” Skirtz says. Regulars bring their own coffee mugs, cloth napkins and silverware. Some stop in for the same menu items every Saturday at 8 a.m. sharp; others make S&J a midway break during their trip; still others end their shopping with a leisurely lunch.
“It’s really about listening to your guests,” says Skirtz, who works with a wide range of market and local vendors, from Coffee Emporium
(which created a special blend for S&J) to Bender
and Eckerlin Meats
for sandwich fillings.
Feedback has also led Skirtz to sell his bread in demi-loaves—customers told him that whole loaves were too big for them to finish. He’s also expanding the shop’s weekday hours to 6 p.m. to accommodate a second baguette baking in the afternoon; baguette-lovers pushed for an option to stop by S&J on their way home from work to buy a warm loaf.
Skirtz was also granted a liquor license this month as part of the newly formed Findlay Market Entertainment District, and is deciding how to incorporate it into his plans for rebranding, which will include a new menu, brunch, special programs and live entertainment.
One thing is for certain: Skirtz will continue to see Findlay Market as a “destination attraction,” reminiscent of his theme park days. “My goal is that anybody who comes in my door and eats my food, I want them to go into the Market House and start shopping,” he says.
By Elissa Yancey
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