When customers walk into baked, all of their senses begin tingling: they feel the warm, close air of the small space and its big ovens — they listen to the classics played on an updated, electronic turntable — they smell the made-from-scratch pizzas and desserts — they taste them — and they cannot help but gaze at the latest additions to the wall-length chalkboard.
This unique scene stems from personal roots for owners and founders Kevin and Samantha Prow.
“My family’s always made pizzas. There were always pizza parties going on,” Kevin Prow, 35, said. “My grandma was locally famous in Galesburg. … She would have pizza parties after basketball games for my uncle and my aunts coming up through high school, and around the neighborhood, everybody knew when she was making pizza. People would just show up. The kitchen would be full of people.”
From the chalkboard to the record player, much of the scene at baked is gleaned from these pizza parties.
“A lot of this is kind of trying to carry on that tradition and pay homage to it at some level,” Kevin Prow said. “That was where it started for me. Seeing those moments and those parties made me go, like, this is really cool. This is a really fun thing and it would be fun if this was how we made a living. We wanted to bring that feeling to our place.”
Although the restaurant just opened in July, its atmosphere seems to be garnering a response so positive that its owners feel “blown away.”
People that the couple has met through the new business have made a lasting impression. Two or three weeks ago, a woman Kevin Prow described as “very well dressed” with “really blonde hair” and an “expressive, loud, British accent” came into the restaurant not knowing what it was and immediately began asking questions.
“[She] was interesting right away. You wanted to keep talking to her. And then, slowly but surely, her family starts coming in, and each one of them [was] cooler than the next. And they started telling us about themselves, and where they’re from, and what they do, and they were so cool,” Kevin Prow said.
After the woman, named Carmel, and her family had tried and endorsed the pizza, they stayed and swapped stories with the Prows for “at least an hour and a half.”
“They were here until we closed,” Samantha Prow, 30, said.
Friendly situations like these have not been the outliers.
“We’ve met so many nice people,” Samantha Prow said.
“I feel like we have so many friends and people that we feel really close to — people that I don’t even know their last names, but if they would walk in, I would give them a hug,” Kevin Prow said. “There’s just something about being able to connect with people.”
Even other restaurants on Seminary Street have been receptive to baked.
“Phil from the Landmark, the owner of the Landmark, when we were putting our ovens in — we were shoving them in and we caught the wheels on the doorjamb. He saw us, came walking over and helped us move it in,” Kevin Prow said. “He didn’t have to do that.”
Knox students have also welcomed this new, near-campus restaurant.
“We feel really lucky to be able to serve the kinds of people that we feel like we are too,” Kevin Prow said. “It just seemed like a really great connection for us to meet people who are interested in learning and art.”
It was not until after they had settled in that the Prows learned of Knox’s interest in sustainable food practices, such as growing and buying local products. Indeed, making good food that is good for the consumer is an important part of baked’s philosophy.
“I wish I could say that I read that Knox was doing that, and that I was like, ‘Ooh, we’ll fit right in here.’ But it just worked out that way,” Kevin Prow said. “Sometimes things go like that when you put the right thing out there in the world.”
In the long term, baked hopes to maintain and improve their distinctive business model and perhaps serve as an inspiration for other potential businesses.
“I like the idea that this would be some kind of a model for a way … to look at businesses. Rather than looking at something and saying it has to be this huge investment and risk, and you can’t do what you want, if you start small enough, you can have it be exactly what you want it to be,” Kevin Prow said. “I think you could have four or five businesses like this down here [on Seminary Street]. Not necessarily all restaurants, but that idea — it’s small and it’s sustainable and local, and artisanal, and focused on higher quality and lower volume.”
Seminary Street, according to the couple, is the ideal location for their business.
“We kind of discovered, once we got started, that we were really making the right decisions because all these old hippies kept walking in. It felt right automatically,” Kevin Prow said. “Once we really discovered the backstory on Seminary Street, we really knew we were in a good spot. It was just made by people who wanted to have their art and sell it. You look at the places on the street, it’s food and … otherwise it’s all forms of art. Galesburg is artsy, and it’s really remarkable.”
Initially, the Prows did not think that they could afford such a high-profile location as Seminary Street. They looked everywhere else, including in Knoxville, before calling the landlord of the space and discovering that it was, to their surprise, reasonably priced.
The couple seems pleased that everything worked out for them to end up in Galesburg.
“I liked the idea of opening a pizza place where my grandma had done this, and my family had done this,” Kevin Prow said. “We like Galesburg. There’s a laid back, ‘be your own kind of person’ deal in Galesburg, and we really like that. We felt like we could fit in.”
Such was not the case in St. Louis, where the couple lived previously. Kevin Prow worked as a manager of a Starbucks, but after three months, he realized that he would not be able to continue this job.
“Starbucks is a good company. The people I worked with were good. But it was something deep inside me that was just like, ‘You can’t do this anymore,’” Kevin Prow said. “I hated selling stuff I didn’t believe in — the corporate retail life is just not for me.”
“I know that I feel a lot better here than I did in St. Louis,” Samantha Prow said. “I’m a little bit more introverted, and I like the pace of Galesburg a lot better.”
Now that they have moved to a place that they both like to do work that they both enjoy, working together seems to present few problems.
“It’s okay to get annoyed with each other, and then you just let it go,” Kevin Prow said. “If we were miserable now, it would be a bad sign. But because we’re both doing what we love, it fills you with space to be patient.”
This is not the first time the couple has worked together. In fact, they first met while working at a bakery in Quincy.
It was at this job that Kevin Prow first began making pizzas for sale. One day, just over five years ago, he saw Samantha come in asking for a job. After the woman working at the front register informed his boss, Leroy — who Kevin described as “a character” — that Samantha was there, Leroy asked if she was looking to start work immediately.
Samantha asked if she could first go home and change, as she was dressed in interview attire and high-heeled shoes. But Leroy said that if she left, she would not be hired.
“So Sam took her shoes off and walked in the back and started icing angel food cupcakes in her bare feet across the kitchen from me,” Kevin Prow said. “She ended up working there. I made her pizza, she made me ice cream and we kind of have hung out every day since.”