On any given day at Apple Cellar Bakery, you can find three generations of women from Stephanie Hirche's family in the kitchen, behind the counter or serving tables of customers their tasty baked goods. It may be the sourdough bread, organic apple tarts and oversized, vegan pumpkin muffins that lure customers in, but it's the infectious smiles from these women that keep many coming back.
Hirche and her husband, Torsten, bought Apple Cellar on Highway 66 in Ashland two and a half years ago and turned it into a family business, which is something both of them know all about.
Torsten Hirche grew up in Germany, where his ancestors owned several bakeries. Stephanie's relatives opened Resch Bakery in Ohio after coming from Germany in the 1900s; the bakery is still in her family. Bakeries are in their blood, and the trend is continuing in Southern Oregon.
Stephanie Hirche's grandmother, Marty Terrell, is Apple Cellar's wedding and gourmet-cake coordinator.
Hirche's mother, Virginia Lewis, while not employed at Apple Cellar, "is a huge help all around" with everything from decorating to working behind the counter.
Hirche's younger sister, Alissa Lewis, joined the staff at the family's new Jacksonville location, which opened in January at 150 S. Oregon St.
Working closely with family could be a recipe for disaster, but not at Apple Cellar. Hirche says she loves working with her family; their strong bond is good for business.
"It's fun for customers to know it's family," Hirche explains, "because then they feel like they know you."
Hirche says it has been especially fun watching Alissa learn and grow at her first job. "Getting to be a part of mentoring her is amazing," she says.
Alissa returns the compliment to her big sister, saying Stephanie has taught her that "good customer service is being respectful and kind to people."
The Hirches describe themselves as strong supporters of sustainable and organic agriculture. They use all-natural ingredients in their products, Stephanie Hirche says, and organic ingredients whenever possible.
Melissa Giersbach, who says she visits the Jacksonville location a couple times a week, says the focus on healthful ingredients is what keeps her coming back. A former baker who once owned a vegan cookie business in New York, Giersbach considers herself a harsh critic. "But this is a great bakery, and their cookies are fantastic," she says.
Hirche says she and her husband have plans to expand their offerings in the near future. Torsten Hirche says he misses German bakeries and European-style bread, so they are working on a new recipe for farmer's bread, a dark bread inspired by their German roots. Apple Cellar is flourishing in Southern Oregon as the Hirche family tree continues to sprout more bakeries.