While most people wake to the sound of a buzzing alarm, blaring radio or cry of a child, Sally Reimer is eased out of slumber around 3 or 4 a.m., by the bright, sweet smell of the first batch of freshly baked bread in the kitchen below her apartment.
Harmony Bork, Reimer’s sister, is usually the first to arrive at the Renaissance Breads & Pastries kitchen and ovens located on the square in Galesville, Wis., each morning. A light dust of flour covers the rubber floor mats of the historic main street building and the scent of bread wafts through the welcoming screen doors. It’s 9 a.m., and the bakers have been up for more than five hours already; a schedule their bodies and families took months to acclimatize to.
“Both of us work better in the morning,” Reimer said. “We’re fresh and focused, and then we get the rest of the day.”
For the past three years, the pair has been creating artisan breads and baked goods from recipes, equipment and supplies handed down from original owners Chad and Lora Hill—bakers for about two decades.
Bork and Reimer were raised in nearby Ettrick and grew up loving the Hill’s fresh bread. Bork even worked at Renaissance as an aspiring baker and chef at the age of 18 before continuing her culinary career at several other restaurants, including the Trempealeau Hotel. But three years ago, the Hills decided to move in a different direction and Renaissance Breads & Pastries was put up for sale.
“I just wanted to continue the business,” Reimer—a then 25-year-old house painter—said. “I love the bread. I knew this was my chance. It’s now or never.”
Bork, 34, reservedly agreed.
“I said, ‘You buy it and I’ll bake,’” Bork said.
The sisters underwent a month-long apprenticeship with Chad Hill, learning how to properly incorporate ingredients, knead and proof the dough, and maneuver a peel—or long wooden board used to turn bread inside the scorching 475-degree tile pizza oven. The Hills passed along everything, leasing the equipment and building—including an upstairs apartment where Reimer resides—as well as perfectly honed recipes created by Lora Hill for everything from French to pecan-wheatberry bread.
“Some things we try to change, only to improve them,” Reimer said of now adding local ingredients to the recipes. “She really knew what she was doing when she made the recipes. We trust that she knows.”
A ‘WWCD?’ sign—standing for ‘What Would Chad Do?’—decorates the cooler door: a reminder for the sisters to keep the bakery’s originators at the front of their thoughts.
Wednesday morning, Reimer pulled piping hot loaves of apple bread from the oven, allowing them to cool on racks nearby as Bork boxed up four loaves of sliced bread and walked a half of a block to the bakery’s main distributor: The Common Market natural foods store also located on the square in Galesville.
Renaissance does not have a retail shop of its own, as the sisters are too busy actually creating the bread and pastries. Bork and Reimer play with flavors—dreaming up imaginative treats like piña colada scones—and also hoping to add a few gluten-free goods to the menu in the near future, but continue to keep the traditional recipes alive. Each year the bakery grows, adding new accounts and attending more events to sell the goods, but the women hope to maintain Renaissance’s charm.
“We really want to keep it small and unique,” Bork said. “Keep it special.”
Every Saturday the sisters look forward to the Winona Farmers’ Market, finally able to put faces to their customers’ names.
“We love to see the smiles,” Bork said. “That’s probably the No. 1 reason we’re here: to see people’s smiles.”