Home > Uncategorized > Back Home in the Fields of Comfort and Plenty

Back Home in the Fields of Comfort and Plenty

Back Home in the Fields of Comfort and Plenty

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared iin The Reader (www.thereader.com)

It’s not everyone that would leave a successful national food television career to do a start-up bakery in Omaha. Especially not when it’s your first entrepreneurial effort. Or when a recession is on and tight consumer spending makes the already daunting prospect of a new business even scarier.

But Christianna Reinhardt is used to going her own way. Her Sweet Georgine’s Bakeshop opened April 22 at the site of the former Benson Bakery, 6109 Maple Street. The gourmet bakery adds to the historic business district’s expanding cultural scene.

While she believes Benson is “becoming THE hip new place to be” that’s not what sold her on ditching a sure-thing for the uncertainty of a new venture with predawn wakeups, heavy lifting and 14 hour days. No, the history conveyed by the 1904 building spoke to her and her interest in baking “the way it used to be.”

“I get really attached to the history of things,” she said.

Consider her 2004 purchase at auction of an abandoned Carnegie library slated for razing in her hometown of Burwell, Neb. and her conversion of the two-story, 3,000 square foot brick edifice into a private residence and cultural sanctuary.

She worked as a Food Network programming/development manager in New York when a notice in the Burwell Tribune — a paper her parents once published and she subscribes to as a link to home — noted the library’s fate. She came to inspect it and found it sound. She made the lone bid on it. On breaks from New York she returned to fix up the circa 1914 library. Wanting to preserve its integrity she made minimal changes — restoring the original tin ceiling and wood floors and installing new heating-cooling-plumbing systems. She put in a high-end kitchen.

The project made her and the library objects of much curiosity. She left it open so visitors could pop inside for a glimpse or a reminscence. She understood. It was the town library for 88 years. She was the prodigal daughter come home.

In New York she missed what she’d put so much of her money and self into. She reassessed what she wanted to do. Food TV wasn’t it anymore. She left the network and the Big Apple for Omaha in early 2007.

“I thought long and hard about whether I was going to leave,” she said, “because I know it was the best job I was ever going to have in television and food. It was really hard to leave. Inside jobs there are so coveted that once you leave you never get back in. But I wanted to do other things. I wanted to feel like I was making some contribution to society. I wanted to feel like I had a life.”

Her eagerness for a fresh start in Omaha, where she did some food journalism, turned desperate when months passed without landing a job.

Driving by the closed Benson Bakery one day she spotted the “For Lease” sign out front and found her new calling. Even though she was born in Burwell and by age 9 moved with her family to Arizona, Benson runs through her blood. Her folks grew up there. Her grandparents lived there. The old bakery was like a family heirloom.

“I probably would not have done this if it weren’t for this particular space. It is the history of this space. This has been a bakery for so long and people miss it. It made a lot of people happy and I want it to become a neighborhood place that people kind of dwell in again. I feel really strongly about preserving pieces of history and culture and how they tie into the community.”

More than a small business owner she’s a resident homeowner in the Holy Name neighborhood just east of Benson.

She’s remade the bakery’s small retail front more open and inviting with smaller display cases, a few tables and chairs, sleek hanging lights, a new peach, sky blue and pale green color scheme and some old family photographs, including images of the bakery’s namesake, Georgine — Reinhardt’s late paternal grandmother.

During the makeover Reinhardt reverted to her Burwell ways and kept the doors open. Sure enough, people stopped by to share memories of the old place.

The large commercial kitchen, which resembles the galley and bowels of a ship with its oversized cooking equipment, prep tables, vents and ducts, provides ample room for her creative jags, which entail much pacing.

“I love the space. It’s huge.”

She even appreciates its limited, outdated wares.

“It fits really well with what I want to do with food. I really am inspired by baking the way it used to be,” she said. “Baking wasn’t uniform. Grandma didn’t have a proofing oven in her kitchen…I don’t want a $5,000 proofing oven that’s going to get a loaf of bread perfect every time. I want people to know how this stuff varies.

“It’s still going to be a good loaf of bread but it’s going to look different coming out of the oven on a 90-degree day then on a 75-degree day. It changes. Before it goes in the oven it’s a living culture, a living thing and the temperature, the humidity, the amount of flour, changes the whole thing. I appreciate those differences. I’m literally banking on the fact hope other people will, too.”

She hopes her artisan, hand-crafted approach is also embraced by customers.

Besides breads, Sweet Georgine’s offers scones, muffins, tarts, puff pastries, donuts, biscotti, brownies, cookies and whatever else strikes Reinhardt’s fancy. In season she’ll feature fresh fruits. Everything will be from scratch and contain local ingredients. She’s drawing on America’s melting pot of cultures for influences. Fresh brewed coffee is available.

Simple hot breakfast plates and grilled lunchtime sandwiches are also served.

Her life in food all makes sense now but she’s come by it in a circuitous way. After earning a philosophy degree from the University of Arizona in preparation for intended law school studies, she lost her zeal to be an attorney and went off to find herself in Portland, Oregon. She bartended in a nightclub before getting on as a production assistant with Will Vinton Studios, creators of the California Raisins and The PJs. She liked TV work and set her sights on the Food Network, where she could indulge her passion for cooking.

In the wake of 9/11 TV jobs in New York were scarce. Then a field producer’s slot opened on Tyler’s Ultimate, the show that served as her network entree.

To sharpen her largely self-taught culinary schools she talked her way onto the kitchen line at Bobby Flay’s chic Mesa Grill in New York. She also moonlighted as a private chef to monied Manhattanites. She was always learning. Part of her producing duties was spot checking the research staff’s work, which put her in contact with chefs. She pumped the pros for ideas.

All that was behind her or so she thought when she resettled in Nebraska. She intended marketing her library in Burwell as a culinary retreat but dropped that plan when she couldn’t affordably access gourmet ingredients. Suddenly she found herself stuck without steady work and a mortgage to pay.

So when a supervising producer gig came up on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives she jumped at it. She officed out of the Minneapolis, Minn. production company that delivers the show to Food Network. What was to be a two-month stint dragged on for seven months, by which time she remade her pledge to exit food television.

Back in Omaha she came upon the bakery and what she hopes is her permanent ticket out of TV food land. Whenever she needs a getaway she can always escape to her own personal Carnegie retreat.

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