Click the featured image above to view the Montana Business Spotlight from Park Avenue Bakery.
HELENA, Mont. — The smell of fresh-baked bread has swirled throughout downtown Helena for nearly a century. Historic Eddy’s Bakery prepared hundreds of loaves per day for the Helena community, selling for a whopping three cents each.
Since 1995, similar tasty aromas have wisped down Park Avenue in Helena catching the attention of every passerby.
John and Renee Kowalski have owned Park Avenue Bakery since 2004, and have carried on the proud tradition of crafting “European-style, scratch baked goods” including artisan breads, breakfast pastries, and specialty desserts. Park Avenue Bakery also offers a full espresso bar.
It’s a place where friends and strangers alike can “gather, meet for coffee, read, or simply relax,” according to Renee.
Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen sat down with Renee Kowalski to highlight the Helena staple, its famous Italian steam deck oven, and the highlights of doing business in Montana.
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: Good morning. We’re at Park Avenue Bakery, one of the staples in Helena and one of my favorite bakeries. And I’m here with Renee Kowalski, the business owner of Park Avenue. Renee, can you tell me why you love doing business in Montana?
RENEE: “I love being such an integral part of this community. I love this community and I love being able to offer jobs; I have 32 employees, and I love being able to employ these people with good paying jobs.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: And how long have you been in Helena?
RENEE: “I’ve been in Helena since 1973. I came here as a teacher in the high school, and then I bought this place, and I’ve now had it for 19 years. I’m into my 20th year.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: Wow, congratulations. That’s awesome.
RENEE: “Yeah, it’s been great.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: What has been the most rewarding moment in the last 19 years as a business owner and just a staple in this community?
RENEE: “I think one of the things that’s the most rewarding for me is giving people opportunities to have a great job. I feel like I really take good care of my employees. We offer health insurance. I think one of the other things that’s so important is that we bring such amazing product to this community. I love the community, they’re so supportive of me and my business, but I sometimes forget how much they love the bread and they love the product. And it’s because we put an emphasis on, it’s high quality. We don’t use any preservatives; everything is made fresh daily – all of our breads; some of the cakes it’s like a two day process. This is a really important part of the community. People just come here and gather. (They) gather and communicate and get together. I love that aspect of it, too. That was always kind of part of my goal; I wanted a place for people to come and visit and get together. “
I love the community, they’re so supportive of me and my business, but I sometimes forget how much they love the bread and they love the product.Renee Kowalski, Park Avenue Bakery
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: I’ve noticed if I’m at other restaurants in town they say, ‘Oh, we get our bread from Park Avenue Bakery.’ So you must have a partnership, too, with other restaurants throughout town?
RENEE: “Yes. I’ve always had a retail aspect of the bakery and a wholesale aspect. The wholesale aspect isn’t as big, but we have our bread in some of the restaurants here in town. Lucca’s is one of our accounts. The Wassweiler. We’ve always had our bread at Van’s (Thriftway) grocery store and Real Food (Market & Deli). We also have pastries, our breakfast pastries, at General Merc and Montego Coffee Shop. That’s really nice to get that product out into the community.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: Absolutely. What’s your best-selling item?
RENEE: “Our best-selling dessert by far is the Earl Grey Cake. That’s a tough one when it comes to the bread. But I would probably say, hands down our French breads because of the beautiful oven that we have that’s kind of state of the art. There’s not many people that have one like that. It’s Italian, it was built in Italy for me and it’s steam-injected and it’s all computerized. Our old one was steam-injected, but this one is computerized. It’s really special for us to have that, and that was a big investment. They built it in Italy, brought it over on the boat, and then brought it up, trucked it up here, and we installed it. That was about eight years ago, but it was probably one of the best investments that I’ve made.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: Yeah, fantastic. I know that Earl Grey Cake, I look forward to that cake every year for my birthday because that’s my favorite cake of all time is the Early Grey.
RENEE: “You and 90 percent of the other people in Helena.”
SECRETARY JACOBSEN: Yes, it’s delicious. I wait for it once a year. Well, Renee, thank you so much for being a staple of our community, and thank you for doing business in Montana.
RENEE: “Thank you. It was a pleasure to visit with you today.”