“That’s it,” Kathryn Elder remembers her husband saying as he put down his newspaper. Finally, the name of her new bakery clicked into place.
Initially having a difficult time coming up with a name, Kathryn was inspired by her daughter’s love for reading and started going through her family’s bookshelves, taking a favorite book title and adding bakery. When she got to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mockingbird Bakery was born.
“I wanted a place where somebody could come in, read a book and have cup of coffee and a baked good, because that’s my cozy spot. That’s what I do at home when I want to relax,” Kathryn says. “I’ve seen people sitting in here reading a book, and I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s working!”
Her plans for the bakery started with an idea she had when she moved to Rochester 11 years ago with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. “I thought, this town needs a little bakery or coffee shop,” Kathryn says. “I thought in 10 years somebody else would beat me to it, but nobody else ever did.”
Prior to moving to central Illinois, Kathryn attended Texas Culinary Academy in Austin, Texas, interned in New York City, and worked at a bakery in Chicago. She then decided to stay home to raise her daughter. Two more children and a decade later, plans for the bakery started to fit into place.
“I always thought I’d start it a little sooner, but life happens,” Kathryn says. For a while she struggled to find a space in Rochester because of the low commercial space turnover in the community. When a spot became available, she jumped on the opportunity. “When we saw it, it was go time. … It might not have been the perfect timing [with the COVID-19 pandemic], but it ended up being pretty perfect.”
Mockingbird Bakery opened for business May 21, 2021, and Kathryn is grateful for the overwhelming community support the bakery received as well as her dedicated group of employees.
“We sold out every day for a month,” Kathryn recalls from when the bakery first opened. “The biggest surprise was how many people came in. My husband said we were going to get hit like a tsunami. I had a vision, and it did not go like I thought. It was so many more people.”
Customers can expect a different selection of baked goods made from scratch in the display case every day as there is no set menu. At least one baked good represents each category every day: scones, muffins, cookies and cupcakes. Plus, an occasional cake, pie or other surprise will be thrown into the mix.
“We started experimenting with flavors, and not just doing the same thing every day,” Kathryn says. “With the shortages happening, sometimes things just aren’t available. So, we have never created a regular menu, and I think that’s just going to be our thing. It gives us a lot of creativity in the kitchen, and we can adapt to seasonal changes.”
Every morning, the baked goods of the day are posted on Facebook and Instagram. Customers can also call or stop by to find out what’s available.
“I think some people like to check every day to see what’s new,” Kathryn says. “We do have favorites that we make every week.”
Scones have consistently been the number one seller since opening. She says customers are oftentimes surprised scones are not dry. The raspberry lemon and the blueberry lemon scones are best sellers. For muffins, the blueberry is a top seller.
The iced sugar cookie has also proven to be a crowd favorite. “They’re time consuming, but people love them,” Kathryn says. “We try to do them at least once a week.”
The cookie designs are oftentimes intricate, and they try to vary the amount of icing used as some people like a little more and others prefer less. Footballs, pumpkins, roses and American flags have adorned the sugar cookies in the past.
Other popular cookies include chocolate chip, peanut butter stamped with the Mockingbird Bakery logo and the oatmeal cream pie, which Kathryn says has a cult following. “Our customers like traditional flavors of cookies, but they are up for new things,” she says. “But those classics always sell really well.”
During the upcoming holidays, Kathryn anticipates a lot of sugar cookies and gingerbread. She’s also playing around with the idea of sugar cookie kits so families can decorate cookies together.
For those with a gluten intolerance, gluten-free options are occasionally available, typically on Saturdays, and these items are baked by Sarah Lezon. “Sarah is my gluten-free baker,” Kathryn says. “I love her expertise because I’ve never eaten gluten-free. I don’t know what it is supposed to taste like.”
“Sometimes there can be such a profound difference in texture with gluten-free,” Sarah says, who has had a gluten-free diet in the past. “Gluten-free scones work the best with the gluten-free flour. You can’t really tell the texture difference.” She also does a popular gluten-free chocolate tart with a pecan crust.
Due to the small kitchen, cross contamination can be an issue. If you just can’t eat gluten, then that’s fine, but if you are highly sensitive, then they don’t recommend it.
Kathryn says Sarah is her creative baker because she likes to experiment with flavors while Kathryn herself is a little more traditional. “It’s nice having somebody whose brain works a little differently than mine,” Kathryn says. “We make a good team.”
In addition to Sarah, two other bakers are on staff as well as a handful of high school and college students who work the cash register.
Mockingbird Bakery doesn’t only sell baked goods. Kathryn also utilizes several local businesses in her bakery. Tea comes from Whimsy Tea Company in Springfield, which created a blend for the bakery called Finch’s Fancy. The coffee is from Redbud City Coffee Roasters in Auburn and Arrowroot Coffee Co. in Springfield.
Kathryn says Arrowroot’s cold brew gained a following over the summer, and the coffee roaster developed a blend for the bakery that is certified bird friendly. Nearby Rochester chocolate shop, Cocoa Blue Chocolates, dips the bakery’s shortbread cookies in chocolate, and Mockingbird Bakery T-shirts come from Reverie Apparel in Springfield.
When customers come in for a hot drink and a sweet treat, they are welcome to browse the books in the small library where readers can take a book and leave a book. Of course, there are plenty of copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the shelves.