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Two sisters, one dream: Flint Hills Market and Bakery has new owners

Staff writer

Nestled in an old, historic opera house on the edge of Kansas’ Flint Hills are two sisters living out their dream as the newest owners and bakers at Flint Hills Market and Bakery in Florence.

Katie Claassen, 23, and her sister, Kami Claassen, 18, reopened the business May 30 after building owner, Judy Mills, closed the doors to the shop May 1 after losing her main baker to Mennonite mission.

In what they call an “antiquey” shop filled with the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, the Claassens have found the bakery to be the driving force of their shop, but they also have continued the deli and market with groceries, gifts, and other goods.

“It’s cool being in an old historic building,” Katie said. “I think that’s a huge draw to people because it’s a cute little place.”

Flint Hills Market and Bakery draws customers from both the county and surrounding areas, including Wichita, Emporia, and Newton. Katie and Kami said they want to see their shop’s customer base grow even larger, both from in and out of county.

“It was intimidating taking over this shop,” Katie said. “But it’s gotten better as we become more comfortable here. I’m learning the ins and outs of it. I’ve learned a lot of business things since I’ve been doing all the paperwork and interacting with people on a business level, but we just don’t know what to expect because we’ve only been open for three months.”

The Claassens — both with no prior business management experience — realize they are young with much to learn, but they believe they make up for it with a love and passion for baking in a small town.

“I’ve always thought it’d be fun to run a little bakery in a little town where you get to know the customers and you recognize them when they walk in the door,” Katie said. “And then this opened up and we thought, ‘Oh that’d be perfect, what a better opportunity.’”

They both grew up on a farm about 25 miles from Florence — Katie was working as a baker at Nothing Bundt Cakes in Wichita, and Kami had just graduated high school at Berean Academy in Elbing.

“The timing was right,” Katie said. “We decided to just jump all in.”

They said they know that is not the best business style, but they believed they could make it happen.

“I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do, but it’s kind of what we have done — figuring it out as we go,” Katie said.

And while running a business is new for them, baking is not.

“We both did a lot of cooking in 4-H,” Kami said. “Our mom and our grandma taught us how to make breads and pies.”

Their mother, Kris Claassen, is head cook and baker at Berean Academy, and the sisters spent many days baking in the kitchen.

“A lot of the pie recipes were my grandma’s that we used growing up, and a lot of the bread recipes were my mom’s,” Katie said. “Really, the recipes just came from all over.”

Katie said she enjoys baking cherry pies the most, but Kami has no favorite.

“I just enjoying the baking as a whole,” Kami said. “It’s what I do.”

Cinnamon rolls and kolaches are some of their best sellers. They also sell sandwiches for lunch, with a special on Wednesday, bierocks on Thursdays, pizza on Fridays, and breakfast on Saturday mornings.

But if a customer asks one of the sisters what they recommend, they never give the same answer twice.

“It just depends,” Katie said. “I ask people what they’re looking for, whether that’s something sweet or a little snack.”

And if you become a regular customer with a go-to treat, the Claassens said it won’t be long before they begin preparing your order as soon as you come in.

“We already have some tickets back there, and when one of those customers comes in we’ll be like, ‘Oh, you want the normal, we’ll get it ready,’” Katie said. “My favorite part is interacting with the people and learning more about them. It’s about noticing when someone has been gone for a couple weeks and being excited when they come back.”

Last modified Sept. 6, 2017

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