(Left to right) Sam, Karin, and Ben Stahlhut stand in front of their display table in their home and business, Simply Awesome Bakery. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
A Kodiak family has just opened a bakery on Mill Bay Road above KVOK – and their display case is a table set up in their living room. There are a lot of small businesses in Kodiak, but few may be as small – or smell as good – as Simply Awesome Bakery.
The Stahlhuts’ apartment door is open to let in fresh air from the hall, even though it’s a cold and rainy morning. Warmth radiates from the oven and all three family members – 17-year-old Ben, 20-year-old Sam and mother Karin – wear short sleeved shirts. Sam has been up since about 3 a.m. baking and now stirs fudge over the stove while dinner rolls bake in the oven.
The display table is full of banana and apple bread, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries. Most of the recipes are inspired by Karin’s memory of what she baked growing up on a farm in rural Indiana.
She comes from a blended background. Her grandmother was Amish Mennonite, her mother was Presbyterian, and her father was Catholic. She says instead of going to the store, her family worked on a farm, milked cows, butchered their own meat, and made their own cheese and butter. And they baked. A lot.
“When I was growing up, you had dessert with every meal. And then you had one before bed. But you worked hard enough you earned that. So, there was always fresh doughnuts and coffee cake and cinnamon roles with breakfast. And at night, we’d crank out ice-cream and we’d have with ice-cream with – if there was anything leftover from earlier. Because you always used what you had.”
Karin says her family has made some alterations to the ingredients – like replacing lard with applesauce, vegetable oil, or butter.
She says baking and cooking are two of the skills she taught her sons, who she homeschooled. She says their jobs in the bakery fit their interests and strengths, and while they all pitch in, Sam explains they play different roles.
“I work in the kitchen, I work up front on the computer. My brother here, he works more with computers than I do. He’s actually been taking several classes in computer coding.”
“And I also am the taste-tester,” Ben adds.
He has a variety of responsibilities, including designing the bakery’s website, updating its social media accounts and offering other tech support. Karin says Ben is great at learning from technical manuals and, growing up, he would sit and go through Microsoft tutorials and then practice on the computer. Meanwhile, Sam is a talented baker and enjoys playing with recipes and improving them.
Karin says both of her sons surpassed expectations after being diagnosed with autism as children – Sam at age six.
“And Sam’s diagnosis was 42 pages long. The specialist claimed that he should be institutionalized and could never be educated, and I disagreed with that and have always told them that you can do anything and you may have to work a little harder. And he’s worked very hard and he’s made it.”
Karin says Sam attended college and also helped support his sister’s education, which Sam says was one of his motivations for selling baked goods.
“I first started at farmer’s market. My sister was going to college and she needed some money for that, so I decided to start baking over there, and it actually went well enough that she got her degree and is completely out of debt, so I decided, hey, why not try to make a living out of it?”
The Stahlhuts take the concept of a family business to a whole new level.
Not only do customers get to step into the team’s kitchen, store-front and home at the same time, but also, on any given day, they meet its IT team, cashier and baker on the way in. And sometimes that’s one person, sometimes it’s all three.