This is Don Harwerth, a distant American relative who I have visited a couple of times in Belleville, IL. Don is a man of many talents and he knows how to put them to work. Next time you are in the area drop in with Don and check out his bakery and bistro.
If you live in the Belleville area chances are you’ve enjoyed a cake from 10th Street Baking Company at one or many of the events you’ve held or attended. But you might not know that 10th Street Baking Co. is much more than a supplier of delicious cakes.
The story of 10th Street Baking Co. and its owner, Don Harwerth, is a story of reinvention and evolution and about the wonderful places that life can take you when you have both a willingness to follow a plan and a need to take chances and pursue adventure.
Owner, Don Harwerth, was the man behind the Blue Igloo, a West Main Street bar from the years 1990 to 1996. Harwerth and his brother Bob were the men behind the Blue Igloo and after the bar closed Harwerth felt the need to reinvent himself. “I moved to Napa Valley, St. Helena, more specifically, and started working as a bartender at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Employee’s got complimentary tuition to the Culinary Institute which I took advantage of.” He spent the next 2 years focusing on bread baking, taking on the role of the Baker for the restaurant called Greystone.
Back home, in Belleville, an empty building owned by Harwerth was on his mind. “I wanted to do something with it and I had an idea.” He opened the 10th Street Baking Co. in 2000 to sell wholesale bread and from there he got into many other facets of bakery business. Soon his delicious and beautiful wedding cakes and specialty cakes were in demand. His reputation grew. “Slowly it changed and grew into what it is today. But I always wanted to have a bar and bakery together,” says Harwerth. “We were doing over 100 cakes per week. It brought with it a lot of pressure and it was very labor intensive. My crew began graduating and moving on to other things and I started offering wedding display cakes.”
Harwerth’s selection of beautiful wedding display cakes were an ingenious and very cost-effective way to offer wedding parties the experience of a gorgeous wedding cake at a fraction of the price. A beautifully decorated display cake is delivered and set up as a centerpiece of the wedding reception, photos of the bride and groom are taken beside it and then it is removed to the backroom where the actual sheet cake is cut and plated for guests to enjoy.
Fast-forward to 2016. 10th Street Baking Co. continues to evolve into perhaps its most exciting incarnation yet. “We’re the home to what we are calling Bakery After Hours,” Harwerth explains. As a natural offshoot of the bread baking business Harwerth began offering deli sandwiches and cheeses as catering trays along with reasonably-priced wines. “We finally settled on the evening hours that we have now and when we received our liquor license we shifted primarily to what we call Bakery After Hours.”
Wednesdays through Saturdays patrons fill the funky and eclectic bakery to enjoy daily specials and favorites over cocktails and a wide selection of interesting beers, wines and craft Martinis. And, of course, there’s more… Don’s Donuts is yet another path that Don explored along the way. “We’re a little different that your conventional donut shop.
We don’t open until 4:30, but that works too. Who says donuts have to be just enjoyed at breakfast?”
Several times in the course of the evening Don spins the big wheel to see who’s going to win free donuts. A fun and unique way to celebrate an evening!
A Truly Neighborhood Bakery… and More
In 1991 Harwerth purchased the building at 1021 West Main Street that had been home to St Clair Music Store. The area between 6th and 17th streets, recently branded as Mid Towne Belleville, had fallen on difficult times. Many of the businesses along this stretch of West Main Street were struggling at best or closing. The renaissance that had begun on East Main Street which included a multi-million dollar streetscape renovation was spreading westward but slowly.
Then, with the transfer of the abandoned Belleville West campus to Lindenwood University the neighborhood began experiencing an upswing. “This is the most optimistic I have felt about the neighborhood since buying the building,” Harwerth explains. “Now there is a multimillion dollar state of the art police station moving in a couple blocks away. The streetscape is slated to extend down to 17th street. People used to drive through and not see this neighborhood because there wasn’t much happening. Lindenwood is expanding and now you see athletes on the sidewalks running by at all hours. A new life has been breathed into the neighborhood and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Harwerth not only runs a business from Belleville’s Mid Towne Neighborhood, he also lives above the bakery. “These old buildings are great,” he says. “They were designed to live above and operate your business on the ground floor.”
“The good influence of all of these factors is slowly taking over the neighborhood,” says Harwerth. “Businesses are popping up and staying. Miscellanea House coffee shop on the next block has become a destination gathering place attracting a regular following. Forgotten Treasures, right across the street, began as an antique and curiosity shop for items that had been left behind at storage facilities. Rain Tree Salon and Spa Demi are located beside 10th Street Baking Co. “These are established businesses offering great services to a very loyal and supportive clientele. And the neighborhood is really strengthened by their choice to locate here. We support each other and each adds special flavor to the area. Simply Sindy Smith offers children’s books, greeting cards and unique gifts. It’s another truly one-of-a-kind shop in Mid Towne Belleville.
“My role at 10th Street Baking Co. and Bakery After Hours is both truly challenging and rewarding. I want to put out a unique product that draws people into the neighborhood – a place they might not otherwise have on their radar. Along with things the other merchants are doing, the things Lindenwood University is doing and the things the city is doing like the new street renovation slated for the near future I really believe that in 5 years you won’t recognize this part of Belleville.
Don Harwerth 10th Street Baking Co.
– Website- http://10thstbaking.com/
– Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/10th.st.baking.co
– Hours: Bakery After Hours- 4:30pm-1am-Wed thru Sat