Be Brave Be Kind Don’t Eat Bad Bread
Chip Stewart and Doug Zaun opened the bakery on June 12, 1995. The bakery was named for the old “Grace Café” on 1st Street in downtown Duluth. The Grace Café was a café that was known to help out homeless and downtrodden folks. They would feed these folks a hearty meatloaf dinner and put it on a tab that often never got around to being paid. It was a sort of “soup kitchen” that doubled as a regular café. Chip and Doug really resonated with the heart and intention behind that café and wanted their bakery to be similar in the way of serving the community and helping out the neighbors. “A sort of reminder of when times were simpler and brothers helped brothers…,”Lori Hatten (original, long time Amazing Grace Family member and good friend of Chip’s) explains. “Of course, Amazing Grace also has the musical connotation,” she continues. Good local music was at the heart of the plans for the bakery as well. Amazing Grace was the first coffee shop music venue in Duluth reminiscent of the 1970’s era music movement.
Amazing Grace was opened “on a whim and a prayer” after only 5 weeks of preparation. Chip learned to bake at the Old Rittenhouse Inn in Bayfield, WI. They started the Grace as solely a bakery. Chip never did like coffee but their early morning customers probably did so they served brewed coffee to go with the muffins. They soon realized that customers may be interested in eating sandwiches on the homemade bread and added the lunch line. Chip was an idea man and was always experimenting new things, which is probably how they came to add the ancient espresso machine and expand on the coffee horizon. Delicious homemade desserts were added to the menu including our famous cheesecake. Folk music was a large focus in those days bringing in a lot of old hippies as well as many college students in the evenings. Things began rolling along at a good rate.
By the 5 year birthday, it was a sort of an anarchy that just worked! Chip was no longer involved much with the day to day tasks of supervising employees, baking products and serving customers. Amazing Grace didn’t really have any “management” let alone such things as written applications or a policy guide! Long time employee and manager, Ronnie Eastling, recalls, “When I came in for what I expected to be an interview, Chip shook my hand and said, “I hear ya need a job…can you start today?” It was a few weeks after she started when an unfamiliar man came behind the counter and started taking things out of the bakery case. She asked timidly if she could help him and he turned around and said, “Oh, I must not have met you yet, I’m one of the owners!” Doug was rarely around the café and Chip bought him out shortly there-after. Despite this very relaxed approach to business management, Amazing Grace has always seemed to be a living, breathing entity that has a mind of its own and carries on no matter what!
Marcie Stoyke married Chip in 2003 and moved to the Northland. As a professional Music Therapist she had no intention of being involved at the Amazing Grace but when Chip was diagnosed with cancer and they had a house fire five days later she could see that she needed to take the reins. At that time Ronnie had recently returned from college and was working as a part time dessert baker. Marcie knew that Ronnie had held some relatively higher level responsibilities at the Grace in the past with things like ordering from distributors and scheduling employees. Marcie asked her to help in the running of the Grace. The two women became a very solid and effective team that started the breakfast service and brought things such as policy, more consistency and higher standards to the table. They worked very hard to grow the business into what you see today. Chip was around (even through his many chemo treatments) encouraging and coaching them along, giving them his newest idea to try to materialize as well as dealing with other behind the scenes things. He fought a long hard fight with the cancer until he passed away in October of 2009. He is greatly missed by many.
The Amazing Grace continues to grow and improve. Marcie and her son, Connor Riley, are currently running the café together.
Chip’s dream and the memory of him are kept alive at this little basement bakery & café that has become a cornerstone of the Duluth community. It has stole many people’s hearts, made them feel “home” and keeps them coming back.