There is flour on the floor, Van Morrison’s “Saint Dominic’s Preview” turning on the record player and a tarp, strategically placed to obscure the evidence of construction, covering an entire wall. To an outsider, the storefront of Seminary Street’s Baked may look haphazard, but for founder and owner Kevin Prow, it is a dream realized. The expansion, which will be complete by Oct. 1, will include a total of eight or nine tables, a liquor license, handicap-accessible bathrooms and a central area for larger parties.
Prow might argue that no one is a true outsider at his pizzeria, that strives to recreate the atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie that imbued his upbringing, particularly in the home of his grandparents.
“My grandma, who lived in Galesburg, threw pizza parties my whole life,” Prow said. “They were always just the best time, and at some point, during these pizza parties, somebody would say, ‘Well, we should open a pizza place.’”
Although plans for a restaurant were briefly deferred as Prow explored the coffee business in his hometown of Quincy, IL. the chef was eventually drawn back into the pizza- making that underscored so much of his family’s personal culture. When Baked opened its doors in 2012, Prow’s family was instrumental in its success.
“My aunts and uncles come in and help when they can. My sisters drive down from Chicago and help on super busy nights. Everybody has made it the fun, friendly, comfortable place that it is,” said Prow, grinning. “People come in, sit down, and eat and say, ‘This is just like eating at my family’s!’ And that is exactly what we are trying to do. We were trying to imitate my grandma’s pizza parties.”
This reproduction is evident in the exposed kitchen of Baked, which allows guests to watch Prow as he prepares orders. Local, farm-fresh ingredients often serve as inspiration for his constantly evolving menu.
In regard to his methodology, Prow explains: “There’s experimentation. What’s become our thing with the pizzas is to take an ingredient and try to leave it alone. Our crust is the foundation, and it’s basically the reason we can get away with a lot of stuff because the crust is good. The rest is balancing, so that, whatever the ingredient that’s on there, you get to taste it.”
Along with familial support, Prow credits much of his success to civic engagement. Local entrepreneurs, restauranteurs as well as the Knox community, contributed to Baked’s prosperity through support, donations and faith. Prow attributes much of this spirit of generosity to the atmosphere of Galesburg itself.
“I love Galesburg. There’s a feeling in this town, space to create here. There’s a group of people that care about art and freedom and creativity. There’s just this energy in this town that lends itself to artists just roaming the stree, and I felt like that would be perfect for what I want to do with pizza,” he said.
Although his grandmother passed away a year after Prow’s first year at Baked, many of the restaurant’s upcoming renovations will further demonstrate the influence her household had upon its owner. Although the chalkboard and record player work to recreate the cross-generational exchange once found in his grandparents’ kitchen, the expansion will simulate the physical configuration of their home.
“We cut a doorway, but we also created this long opening for windows so we could see back and forth into the new seating area,” Prow describes. “In my grandma’s kitchen, it had these windows that went out onto an enclosed porch, where everyone hung out during the pizza parties, because the kitchen was like a million degrees. So when we were doing this expansion I was like, ‘We’ve got to put windows in so we can talk to people from the kitchen.’”
In regard to the upcoming expansion, Prow said, “We’re hoping that it just allows us to have more great experiences and more fun. It’s going to make more money, but it’s really about recreating my grandma’s kitchen. Now the focus is going to be people sitting down, hanging out and having fun at Baked.”