When Erin and Kent Maze moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to La Salle, they returned home, inspired by bakeries across Europe.
“At the time, Kent was very interested in baking,” Erin said. “This is during the pandemic, so we used that extra time to really perfect the chocolate chip cookie recipe.”
They opened Millstone Bakery in 2022, with more than just their perfected cookie recipe. The bakery offers pastries, breads, coffees, mac and cheese and soups. All products are handmade daily in the bakery kitchen.
The bakery’s unique atmosphere, authentic experience and handmade items were just a few of the reasons it was inducted into Gov. JB Pritzker’s 2023 Illinois Made Program on Nov. 28.
When we come in, we are saying ‘hi’ to everyone, and everyone starts to get to know each other. It’s just become a really cool community spot.”
The duo said they modeled Millstone off the few bakeries in Grand Rapids and partnered with Joliet Junior College’s culinary program as a way to bring a unique destination to downtown La Salle.
“We were looking around, and there was nothing like this in the area,” Kent said. “Everything is made from scratch. You can come in and it’s like stepping into a different environment.”
The bakery’s name references La Salle-Peru’s industrial and agricultural history of working with wheat, and the Mazes kept the building’s original architecture.
“The downtown building still has the original tin ceiling and maple floors,” according to a Millstone news release. “The walls feature pictures of the area’s historic granaries, flour mills, old bakers and the region’s ethnicities, whose baking traditions the bakery carries forward.”
Millstone has become a gathering place for the community, with customers lining up to buy flavored danishes, cookies, scones and, of course, the coveted sourdough bread.
“That’s what we really want it to be,” Kent said. “When we come in, we are saying ‘hi’ to everyone, and everyone starts to get to know each other. It’s just become a really cool community spot.”
Millstone specializes in making different types of bread, with five options offered daily – sourdough, multigrain, Italian, baguette and focaccia.
“Our breads take us about 26 hours to make start to finish,” Kent said. “We use a combination of flours, including multiple flours from Janie’s Mill. ... They mill their own products, which is extremely unique, and that’s why our bread is so good.”
Janie’s Mill is based in Ashkum and is only one of the locally sourced products sold and used at Millstone.
“They are one of the only remaining mills in Illinois to use traditional stone millstones to grind the wheat into flour,” Kent said. “We also partner with Starved Rock Coffee Co. to provide locally roasted beans for our specialty coffee and espresso drinks.”
Heritage Corridor Destinations nominated Millstone for the designation in July.
“The Illinois Made program selects a group of our most exemplary hidden gems and one-of-a-kind small businesses and encourages Illinoisans and visitors alike to discover the experiences they offer,” Pritzker said in a news release. ”This year’s class of Illinois Makers is one of our most diverse.
“In every corner of our state, people from all walks of life are creating delicious food and sharing expert craftsmanship. Illinois is sending out the message loud and clear that our state is open for business, and it’s the perfect place for businesses big and small to call home.”
Erin said the induction is a source of pride for not only the bakery but also for the entire community.
“[It means] that we’re going to continue on this great tradition of making things in small batches,” he said. “Here is La Salle-Peru, which is a historic manufacturing center. Here we are continuing a small manufacturing operation.”
La Salle Economic Development Director Curt Bedei said it’s great for a La Salle business to be recognized as part of an elite class of artisans and crafters throughout the state.
“Tourism is probably the No. 1 asset or economic mainstay for the state of Illinois outside of agriculture,” he said. “So in a way, those two elements come together with Millstone. ... To have that as part of downtown La Salle is exciting.”
Illinois Made isn’t the only accolades Millstone has accumulated recently. One of its bakers, Anna Harmon, recently was selected as a finalist in the Greatest Baker competition, an event featuring the best bakers from across the U.S.
Harmon is ranked No. 1 in her category.
The winner of the Greatest Baker competition receives $10,000 and will be featured in Bake From Scratch magazine, a global artisan food and cooking magazine that celebrates the world of baking.
Winners also will meet Buddy Valastro Jr., known as the “Cake Boss,” a beloved pastry chef and TV personality, and can attend an exclusive workshop with the boss himself.
Kent said they are incredibly proud of Harmon, adding that she showcases the talent the community has to offer.
“There is so much talent here in this community because it’s so great,” Kent said. “There is so much potential, and there’s so much talent waiting for places like Millstone to thrive. We are so proud that our bakers and our entire team all work together to flourish.”
Millstone has accomplished so much this year – adding soup and sourdough, specialty mac and cheese and sourdough bread bowls. Next year, it will be “rolling out” paninis and sandwiches.
“We’re going to do some more traditional sandwiches,” Kent said. “And then we are going to try some more unique flavor combinations that some people may not expect.”
Millstone is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to noon Sundays at 821 First St. in downtown La Salle.
For information, visit www.millstonebreads.com or call 815-250-0877.