A freshly baked piece of Europa

Kathlyn Hotynski

When you step into Marie’s Original Bakery, you’re greeted by white walls. But the first thing you really notice is the smell of fresh bread baking.

“Smells like cinnamon rolls!” said Ricky Schillinger of Baldwin as he entered the store for the first time. The wooden door creaked shut behind him. French music played on a boombox near the counter.

Aesthetically, the place is a work in progress, said owner Marie-Arzel Young, who displays pastries in a wooden case and takes money in a small metal box. Once she finishes painting the walls, she plans to display and sell works by abstract watercolorist Tere Hering in the seating room. She also wants to sell coffee.

But her main focus for now, she said, is on the made-from-scratch European breads and pastries she sells to an increasingly loyal customer base.

“I’m just doing it a little bit at a time; I add pieces as I can afford them,” she said.

Young used to own the French Confection, 405 Water St., which she closed in 2005. After working as a culinary teaching assistant in Madison, she opened Marie’s on October 13, 2006.

“It was a Friday, too,” she said, “I opened and I went, hey, wait a minute.”

Young said she gets inspiration from the neighborhood pastry shops common in France. Her mother was born in France and Young spent many summers there as a child.

“It’s nice to be able to do something that’s a little bit exotic for the U.S. market and have it work.”

Young’s top seller is ciabatta, a bread that’s crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. They sell for $3 each. She also sells challah, a braided loaf made of sweet dough; galettes, with fillings such as peach and blackberry lime; and poppyseed rolls, along with many other sweet and savory offerings.

Annette Copa of Eau Claire, who comes to the store often with her two young daughters, recommends the pain au chocolat – chocolate-filled croissants – as well as the 10-grain bread.

Schillinger said he enjoyed his first experience as a customer.

“I think there’s very good hospitality here,” he said. “The people are warm, they welcome you, it’s a very good facility. I don’t know about the location, but in summertime, I think it will be swamped with business.”

Young calls her kitchen “old school” – she has little more than a small oven, a mixer and a 100-year-old table she found in the basement when she moved into the building. She said she bakes about 300 items a day, or as many as 500 on Saturdays, with help from her part-time apprentice.

The store is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until she sells out for the day, Wednesday through Saturday.

“I have to be limited because I’m still trying to buy equipment,” she said.

She said she uses all natural ingredients, organic whenever possible, and unbleached flour.

“This is my little contribution towards turning back the clock on what larger agribusiness industries have done. They’ve affected the way that we eat,” she said. “This type of business . is sort of like a small part of the solution, of giving people more options than just fast food.”

Downtown Eau Claire offers more options for food and entertainment, Young said, and she hopes to get more student traffic in her store. She said she expects additions to Phoenix Park to draw more people and businesses downtown and that she’s thrilled to be on the “ground floor” of downtown expansion.

“If students wanted to, they could do a lot of grocery shopping around here, just on foot,” she said. “But I guess that’s not cool yet.”

During the summer, Young will set up shop at the downtown farmer’s market in Phoenix Park, where she sold enough last summer to open up the bakery.

Copa said Marie’s makes a great addition to downtown since she can take her daughters there when they visit the children’s museum.

“I am hooked on Marie’s baking, and I am thrilled that she’s opened in the Barstow area, and we plan on being lifelong customers.”