Nov. 13, 2015A tiny, eclectic cafe takes its owner from shoes to sweets
DESIGNS ON LIFE
Lauretta Reiss, owner of Harbor Springs bakery-cafe Small Batch, seems to be floating in disbelief over her recent career shift, in a good — dare we say sweet — way.
“For 25 years, I was a footwear designer,” Reiss said. “A lot of that was constant travel; one year, I traveled for 200 days out of the year. I’d get home and be exhausted. All I’d want to do was rest and bake.”
A native of Birmingham, Mich., Reiss moved to Chicago after school and her life took a sudden glamorous twist. She began working at Florsheim Shoes, where they were desperate to find a shoe designer to work alongside menswear designer Joseph Abboud.
“He just wasn’t getting along with any of the designers that Florsheim had tried to get him to work with,” Reiss explained. “I didn’t really have designer training, but I was a prolific sketcher and I’ve always been an artist.”
They flew Reiss to New York to see if her personality and Abboud’s would mesh.
“I met with Joe and it was a perfect match,” she said. “He’d describe things and I’d sit there and sketch them. I worked with him for five years and that launched my career.”
After her tenure with Abboud and Florsheim ended, she was offered a job as design director for junior footwear company RocketDog. She moved to Los Angles for the position, but the demands on her time continued, year after year, and she decided it was time for a change. She retreated to her familiar vacation spot in Harbor Springs, acquired a space downtown and applied for her license. In September 2014, she opened for breakfasts, lunches and baked goods, and watched her success start moving in a completely different direction.
“It was definitely a complete career change,” she said. “They may have been hobbies to start with, but I’ve always been passionate about food and entertaining and baking. They’re like therapy for me.”
Small Batch’s diverse baked goods and other menu offerings are a result of Reiss’ previous career, as she’s quick to point out.
“That’s the thing,” she said. “Because of all of that international travel, I was exposed to so many cultures and cuisines.
That makes Small Batch a conglomeration of all of the things I’ve experienced!” Reiss must have had some pretty amazing meals during her travels if Small Batch’s menu is any indication.
“Most of the focus is on baked goods and artisinal foods,” Reiss said. “I think everything on the menu is good, of course, but the whole brand is really represented in the baked goods. And I really like to go over the top — it’s all about the details.”
Over the top is the perfect way to describe one of Small Batch’s signature luncheon dishes: their macaroni and cheese.
It includes four types of cheese mixed with roasted chicken, caramelized onions, hardwood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and peapods, combined with pasta, covered in homemade breadcrumbs and baked.
“People buy whole trays of it,” Reiss said. And then there’s Small Batch’s quiche, available in bacon and onion, spinachricotta and Italian sausage, among others.
“The quiches are a labor of love,” Reiss chuckled. “It starts with crust made by scratch, mixing the butter into the flour by hand. The entire thing takes three days to prepare. It’s a lengthy process.”
Her breakfasts are equally decadent: the old-fashioned coffee cake is a walnut streusel confection with sour cream baked in and maple glaze on top. Flavor-packed breakfast sandwiches and yogurt parfaits with homemade granola offer more morning options.
In the bakery department, you’ll find Reiss’ secret recipe carrot cake covered in cream cheese frosting with the added flair of toasted coconut, along with rave-worthy lemon bundt cake. The sea salt chocolate chip cookie with its brown butter base and fine sea salt dusted on top practically has a cult following.
It’s plain to see that Reiss’ new career shoes are fitting quite nicely.
“I like to think of Small Batch as a luxury cafe and bakery,” she said. “It’s something I’m truly passionate about and I think that’s why it’s successful.”
Small Batch is located at 117 W. Main Street in downtown Harbor Springs. Hours: Wednesday–Saturday 9am–3pm, closed the rest of the week for baking. For more information, call (231) 242-4655 or find it on Facebook.