Stop and smell the flour: heritage bakery and café
Upon entering the Visitors Center in downtown Harrisonburg, the sweet smell of freshly baked croissants and scones waft through the air. Soft, charming music plays amongst the midst of customers sipping away at their local coffee and catching up with old friends over a pot of tea. This is uncommon of most Visitor Centers, however, most do not have Heritage Bakery and Café.
Tucked away in the Hardesty-Higgins House, this cozy café has a lot to offer, including an ever-changing daily selection of baked goods, breakfast and lunch items and an open concept that makes guests feel at home. Co-owner, Isabelle Treciak, is what makes this warm and inviting ambiance possible.
“I just love sweets,” Treciak said. “They always make people happy, no matter what – they will put a smile on someone’s face. I love that. And I love sugar, so… you know.”
Growing up, Treciak and her mother constantly joked about opening up a family bakery. She was inspired by her father’s French restaurant, The Birchrunville Store Café, where she spent countless hours in the kitchen preparing pastries as a young girl. Needless to say, she has been around French inspired food her whole life.
“Our love for French cuisine runs in the family,” Treciak said.
Unlike her father, Treciak did not attend culinary school or major in anything related to French cooking or baking at all. Instead, she attended James Madison University with a major in Health Sciences. Post-graduation in 2012, she worked at a nursing home and loved the sense of community, but realized it was not her “cup of tea.” She wanted to combine her love of people with her love for food. In 2015, she finally turned her running joke about opening up a family bakery into a reality.
“Everything just fell into place,” Treciak said. “A friend of mine mentioned that a space just opened up downtown in the Visitors Center, where New Leaf Pastry was, and that I should check it out.”
Once she saw the space and decided it was perfect for her café, she met with the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, who helped draft a business plan and played a huge role in bringing Heritage into existence. There were a handful of other people competing for the spot, but Treciak’s proposal for the bakery took the cake.
With the space secured and the bakery in the works, it was time for Treciak and her mother to choose a name. They originally had three they were deciding between. The first was “Brioche,” which is a type of French bread. Second, was “The Golden Horseshoe,” which interestingly enough has no correlation to “The Golden Pony,” a pub also located in downtown Harrisonburg. The final option was “Heritage,” due to the historical roots of the location.
The Hardesty-Higgins House is the second oldest colonial revival building still standing in downtown Harrisonburg. According to a Hardesty-Higgins House brochure, it was once home to Harrisonburg’s first Mayor, Isaac Hardesty, and his family in the 1850s. While the Civil War was going on, Hardesty entertained Union General Banks in his house while the surrounding Shenandoah Valley was being burned by his forces. The Hardesty family eventually moved, and the space began to take on new roles.
“We went back and forth between names, but stuck with Heritage because we wanted to play off how much history the building has,” Treciak said.
Customers are drawn to the unique location of the café, but stay for the welcoming atmosphere that Treciak has successfully encapsulated.
“People come in and say, ‘Oh, this is like my kitchen at home,’” Kathryn Moyer, manager and 2017 JMU alumna, said. “I think because people can see into our kitchen and they can see what we’re doing and it happens all day. We’re very open book about how we prepare everything.”
The baking operation begins at 5 a.m. Treciak wakes up and decides what treats she wants to feature in the pastry case depending on her mood that morning. She likes to have a wide variety of not only the type of baked goods, but also the colors.
“She and I are both very big on color,” Moyer said. “So we’ll talk about it and be like, ‘Okay, we want things that are bright and colorful so that way it’s not just one note.’”
While color and variety play a large role in the daily pastry selection, Treciak is inspired by what ingredients are fresh that day. She is all about local, fresh ingredients, and giving customers food that is not only good for the soul, but also good for their health. Heritage gets all of its fruits and vegetables from the local co-op, and uses locally sourced products from Mount Crawford Creamery, Lucas Roasting and Staff of Life. Even items from the kid’s menu contain local ingredients.
The beauty of Heritage is that there is something for everyone.
“It’s a place for kids, adults and an older crowd to come; our audience is broad,” Treciak said.
Every once in awhile, Heritage will put on a free projector show for kids so they can watch some of their favorite classic Disney movies while munching away on their favorite sweet treats.
“She’s very much about building a community here and building a family environment,” Moyer said. “It’s just a big part of how she likes to have things run.”
It is only fitting that a small business emphasizing the importance of community is located in one of the most historical buildings in Harrisonburg. The travel specialists at the Visitors Center are quite fond of Heritage and its contribution to Hardesty's history.
"It's just wonderful with the smells," a Tourist Specialist who wishes to remain anonymous, said. "It's a win win."
Since opening, Treciak has expanded the bakery’s services. It caters to custom orders such as birthday parties, anniversaries or just for the love of cake. Customers can customize size, buttercream flavor and any additional decorations they wish to include. If they want to take it a step further, the bakery also designs custom wedding cakes for your special day.
Treciak is constantly thinking of new, fun recipes to try out. She invites her employees to get creative and come up with recipes of their own. She is all about cultivating a friendly environment not only for the customers, but also for those who work there.
“She’s very focused and driven, but not driven by her business, but by what she loves to do, which is run this business,” Moyer said.