Baked For You
Linda Kindlon is just like her business, Bake for You. Chic and efficient up front, with a den of secret rooms behind the counter where the magic happens. Bake for You’s edible bites of magic are cranked out by the thousands, weekly by Linda and her son, supplying her bustling store and more than 20 wholesale accounts, including Whole Foods and Honest Weight Co-Op. Not to mention custom orders.
“My son and I do all the baking and we do everything by hand,” Linda says. “We use free-range eggs from Feather Ridge, Cabot butter, and we’re as local and organic as we can be.”
When Linda shakes your hand, it’s cool and crisp, and she holds your gaze. She looks like Eileen Fisher’s idea of the perfect client, with long blonde hair trailing down her back in a neat ponytail, a friendly and confident mien, well-made simple clothes as flowing and flattering as they are elegant and well tailored. Topped, in Linda’s case, with a bright-white ironed apron.
As Linda (and her many customers) would say at Bake for You, “Life is Sweet.” Bake for You offers the cookie classics but also thinks outside of the sweets box, most notably with a Girl’s Best Friend cookie, featuring potato chips, pretzels and chocolate chips and the Ramsey, with marshmallows, corn flakes and chocolate chips. There are always seasonal options, too, like strawberry scones when the main attraction is supplied by local farmers.
But these days, Linda’s life is looking more savory than a glance at her delectable bakery case makes it seem. Things are getting downright culinary.
On Thursdays, Bake for You hosts a small plates evening. The Cheese Traveler provides a cheese board. Wine and beer flow. Conversation burbles. Lights are dimmed. Linda and her 24-year-old son, Christian, design a seasonal savory menu (a recent evening included Asian noodle salads, sweet potato pancakes and stromboli) based on what’s at the farmers’ market and what they feel like eating themselves.
“It’s very casual,” Linda says. “We often push tables together and by the end of the night, the whole room is talking together. It feels more like eating at my home than eating at a business.”
On Wednesdays this spring, Bake for You launched an adult coloring night, where guests can come to nosh, guzzle and yes … color. She has also partnered with chefs Mark Graham, Brian Bowden and Mike Niccoli on a pop-up restaurant concept, 3 Chefs and a Baker.
“We check our egos at the door and play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, forcing each other to push our boundaries,” Linda says. “I feel really lucky to have a community of chefs and local businesses that I can depend on for creative and practical support. Those three guys often rewrite my Thursday menus for me.”
It goes both ways. While similar businesses operating in the same region often become rivals because they’re competing for the same pool of customers, Linda transcends the stereotypical backbiting. “I love Sweet Sue’s, Nibble and Bread and Honey,” she says. “We’ve run over to each other’s shops to borrow 50 pounds of flour.”
Ego-checking and hominess encapsulate Linda’s entire approach to business. Her cookies are picture-perfect for the way we live now, when eaters crave authenticity more than polish, and when a picture of a homemade sugar cookie with a bite out of it gets more likes on Instagram than spherical chocolate bonbons in a Parisian pastry case. But Linda’s easy-breezy kitchen style isn’t for everyone.
“I make my baker friends very nervous,” she says, merrily dumping an overflowing quart of chocolate chips into a mixing bowl. “Unlike trained bakers, I don’t measure. I bake by eye and taste, and Christian has learned to do the same thing.”
You don’t become the sort of person who adds potato chips to a cookie if you’re afraid of breaking the rules. There is a place for perfectionism, though. In addition to Bake for You’s vibrant presence on social media (spearheaded by her daughter, Courtney, 32), the packaging of everything visual at BFY is ready for a close-up, from the shabby-chic decor and frameworthy chalkboard menu behind the counter to the prim white boxes outfitted with organza ribbons that her fearlessly esoteric sweets are herded into.
“People tend to slam Martha Stewart these days, but I learned a lot from her,” Linda says. “I think she’s a genius. Who doesn’t want something beautiful to look at with a delicious treat inside?
Her instinctive understanding of the value of packaging has come through trial and error, because even on embossed paper, Linda’s background does not scream “successful entrepreneur!”
Cookie Monster is her company’s unofficial mascot; she’s constantly giving away product (there’s giveaway Wednesday for one lucky social media follower, buy-two-get-one-free Tuesday for all); she loves whipping up quirky and highly impractical seasonal selections to accompany TV shows—Downton Abbey box of tea cakes, anyone? Members of her family work for her, and her roots in the community are so deep that she often makes business decisions based on her heart and not necessarily her bottom line. Oh, and she attended clown college and worked as a professional clown for several years.
Linda also once filed for bankruptcy, but if anything, that counts in her favor: Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Milton Hershey, H. J. Heinz, P. T. Barnum and Larry King being just a few of the other successful entrepreneurs who share that distinction.
The growth of Bake for You has been as natural and organic as the ingredients that comprise her cookies, but she almost let it wither on the vine, fearing another failure. “The first food business I had, I got way in over my head,” she says, without a note of regret. “I tried to do too much too fast, all by myself. I had to file for bankruptcy and get a regular job doing scheduling at Albany Medical.”
It took a divine intervention to get her back in the food business six years ago, despite the fact she still spent most of her spare time baking for friends who missed her creations. “I was driving to church one day and the phrase ‘bake for me’ kept replaying in my head over and over, because people were constantly saying that,” Linda remembers. “It dawned on me suddenly that maybe I could do it right this time. I sat my kids down for a family meeting and asked their permission to restart the business, slowly. They agreed, and we decided they’d be part of it. St. Paul’s rented a space to me for a tiny fee, I waitressed to make ends meet, and then two years later, this space became available.”
It just so happens to be the same space her previous culinary incarnation was in. Most landlords would recoil at the notion of bringing in a previous business that went belly up, but they approached Linda before she could make the first move.
“They saw how slowly and solidly I grew the company back and they wanted to bring me back in,” she says. “I was blown away. I love them, and I love my neighbors, the Cheese Traveler and the Yoga Loft, who are also committed to the community and the region.”
Linda is many things: a single mom, one of seven children who grew up on the very street her shop is on, a comeback kid, a business owner. But most of all, a reminder that, sometimes, the secrets behind even the most choreographed facades are the sweetest and most unexpected of all.
Bake for You is open Tuesday through Sunday, but the hours vary so it’s best to contact before going over. 518-207-5430. 540 Delaware Ave., Albany, BakeForYou.com