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The magic behind the magic bars: A sweet peek inside the Brown Bakeshop

Bakeshop staff share details behind creating all of dining’s baked goods

<p>In addition to their normal production for dining and catering, The Bakeshop has created colorful, fondant- filled displays for Halloween, Thanksgiving and the start of the school year.</p><p>Courtesy of Jeannie Travalini</p>

In addition to their normal production for dining and catering, The Bakeshop has created colorful, fondant- filled displays for Halloween, Thanksgiving and the start of the school year.

Courtesy of Jeannie Travalini

Their day starts at 4 a.m. 

By the time students stumble into the Sharpe Refectory for breakfast, the Brown Bakeshop’s six bakers are already in the thick of their recipes, working on today’s brownies, tomorrow’s cookies and next week’s pie. 

One corner of the Bakeshop — found underneath the Ratty — smells like vanilla, another like bubbling butter. Sue Ennes is rolling pie crust while Dave Coite is baking off his latest bread creation. Bert Belle is scooping cookies with the Johnson & Wales University intern Cathy Ortega while Cassandra Rodrigues is shaping fondant for their next holiday display. Everyone’s aprons are covered in flour.

“We’re very behind-the-scenes folks,” Bakeshop Production Manager Jeannie Travalini told The Herald. Students at the Ratty “see the cooks walking around … But the bakers, no one really sees because by the time most (students) are coming up here, we’ve left for the day.” 


“They work so very hard,” she added.

A ‘well-oiled machine’ 

The Bakeshop produces almost all of the pastry and dessert products for the Ratty and the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall from scratch, Travalini said. During the week, products are packed up and driven to the V-Dub and any other campus events catered by the bakers. 

But the bakers’ work doesn’t stop there. Besides day-to-day production, the team produces the occasional colorful, fondant-filled displays greeting students in the Ratty. For the start of the school year, it was a “Ratatouille”-themed cake display. For Halloween, a spooky witch’s display. 

This is a chance for the bakers to get creative, said Rodrigues, the Bakeshop’s lead baker. They “play around” and try different fondant and airbrush techniques.

“We provide opportunities for our workers to do things that they like to do, so everyone has a little joy in their day,” Travalini said. Those opportunities have included fresh bread “popups” — challah, pumpernickel and cinnamon — for the Ratty, which are especially appreciated by bread-expert Coite.

“It’s what I love,” Coite, who has been at the Bakeshop for 17 years, told The Herald. “Just the fact that you take ingredients and you’re creating something that’s actually alive. The starter’s right here, it’s alive.” 

And not only alive but named: “Billy V,” the fifth iteration of a sourdough starter kept at the Bakeshop in a large white tub, fed every day with flour and water. 

While the dining halls used to bake fresh bread every day for lunch and dinner — with the help of the student assistants the Bakeshop used to employ — the Bakeshop now has less time for fresh bread, with so much work to do for catering. 

Commencement is one of the busiest times for the shop, Travalini said. So is Thanksgiving, when bakers start at midnight the day before to prepare pies and squash rolls, filling orders for their annual pie sale. Last year, the Bakeshop produced 1,872 orange-tinted dinner rolls. 


In a normal week, the Bakeshop might use close to 1,500 pounds of flour, Travalini said. The 50-pound bags are stacked at the back of the Bakeshop next to bins of sugar, massive cans of pumpkin puree and many assortments of mix-ins and toppings. 

Although leftovers are packed up and donated, there are usually no leftovers at all.

According to Travalini, she is always thinking of ways to provide exciting and creative opportunities for bakers. Last year, for example, she asked the Bakeshop to develop a new recipe and thus was born Linda’s Chips & Chunks, the cookie creation of baker Linda Craven, who has been at the Bakeshop since 2017. 

But Craven’s cookies aren’t the only ones on the menu. Nick’s Best Chocolate Chip cookies are the creation of baker Nick Amesbury, who has been at the Bakeshop for almost 10 years. About five years ago, he tested half a dozen cookie recipes to find the best one — the secret was using sea salt and salted butter, he revealed. 

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“I love when I come up (to the dining hall) during the day, just walk around and check things out, and I’ll listen to students and (hear) them say, ‘Oh! Nick’s Best today!’” Travalini said. “That’s why you get into the food industry, because you want people to be happy with what you’re making.” 

Travalini has also put her own spin on certain products, like adding butterscotch chips for a "Scottish" version of the infamous magic bars, typically made only using chocolate chips and coconut.

There’s a magic to the Bakeshop too: Bakers described it as a “well-oiled machine.” 

“It’s just by feel,” said Ennes, describing how tasks are divided among staff. “We come in, we all have a different spot — someone’s on catering, Bert’s always on the oven, me and Nick are in the middle.” 

‘Making all the pastries and keeping us fed’ 

Yohanna Cuello ’26 raved about the Bakeshop’s occasional cheesecakes, especially the pumpkin cheesecake during Thanksgiving. According to Travalini, that’s one of the desserts that always runs out. 

“I eat a baked product every single day, I just can’t help myself,” Travalini said. “I love our cookies.” 

But which cookie in particular is a trickier question: “I never met a cookie I didn’t love,” she said.

Bakers testified to The Herald that Belle never waits for the baked goods to cool down before eating them. “We wonder how he doesn’t burn himself,” Ennes said.

Multiple students said they thought there were too many vegan desserts — “disproportionate to the amount of vegans,” said Sasha Floru ’24. 

“It’s great that we have vegan options, but sometimes it impacts the texture of the dessert,” said Addie Poulson ’26. 

“Not everyone that eats a vegan diet is eating it because they’re vegan,” Travalini said. “What if you have a milk allergy? So you know if you grab that vegan cookie, you don’t have to worry about eating that and getting sick.”

Travalini added that vegan desserts have greatly improved since “pastry people first started fooling around with vegan desserts.” She thought students might never realize the Ridiculously Good Stout Brownies were vegan. 

Mia-Nathalie Pridgen '26 said she enjoys the Bakeshop’s donuts, which were added to the breakfast rotation only six years ago, according to Amesbury. 

“I would just commend (the Bakeshop) for all their efforts,” Pridgen said. “I definitely appreciate them for … making all the pastries and keeping us fed.”

Rodrigues — whose favorite pastry is the cranberry orange muffin — said that students typically don’t know who the bakers are, even though the team eats at the Ratty on their breaks. 

“The white shirts are the Bakeshop,” she said. “We care about what we put out, we feel our product is good and the kids tend to enjoy it.”

Haley Sandlow

Haley Sandlow is a section editor covering science and research as well as admissions and financial aid. She is a junior from Chicago, Illinois, studying English and French.

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