If you happen to be driving down Main Street in Westminster at 5 a.m., you can follow the scent of butter and crust and bread right to the Jeannie Bird Bakery, where croissants made with European butter are rising in the oven. Bernie and Jeannie Vogel opened this bakery on the corner in 2014, the fulfillment of a dream. Now Bernie is stepping into a new role after losing his wife, baker and partner in a tragic car accident that rocked the community nearly two years ago. He’s keeping the ovens fired while introducing a specially selected world of wine to an old-fashioned Main Street bakery.
Opening the Jeannie Bird Bakery was a longtime dream for you two.
My wife and I always wanted to open a place when we first got married, but put it on the back burner to start a family. Jeannie was a pastry chef at King’s Contrivance Restaurant [in Columbia], and I was in wine sales. When the kids went off to school, she went back to college, was a labor and delivery nurse at Carroll Hospital Center and got a reputation for bringing in food—cookies, butter horns, scones.
Jeannie wasn’t classically trained. Her grandmother Eugenia was from the Deep South, a home economics teacher, and taught her “domestic skills”—how to bake and to cook.
So how did it happen?
Nine years ago, we started out at the farmer’s market in downtown Westminster. My wife made the product and it was my job to sell it. She would come to greet the morning customers and then I would send her home. Everything had to be out of the oven and in the car by 7 a.m.
We sold signature items we have here today. We thought we were going to write our ticket on homemade English muffins. We made yeast-raised sweet potato biscuits and our butter horns — buttery pastry with cream cheeses folded into dough, chilled and cut into a croissant shapes and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and dried currant, rolled and baked…
You had me at “butter horns.”
… bacon cheddar scallion scones, savory breakfast tart on puff pastry, like heirloom tomato with chèvre and thyme — it changed every week.
Very quickly we had 15 people waiting for us when got there. We started taking orders online and 65 percent of our product sold before we got there. Three years later, we started looking for a storefront. We admired this place from afar.
When did you know things would take off?
We did a soft opening before Thanksgiving and I watched a young professor from McDaniel College pick up his phone and take a picture of a cross section of a croissant with nooks and crannies. I said, “I think the genie’s coming out of the bottle tonight.” On Black Friday we were crushed. Our downtown friends came out to help. They poured coffee and bussed tables.
We would not be here today were it not for the amazing clientele that stuck by us. Our business has put up unbelievable double-digit growth every month we’ve been open. I thought it would be the honeymoon, but it hasn’t stopped.
Folks are really nice around here.
We hired the best young people we could find. I call them my Savory Head of State, Dessert Head of State, Baking Head of State. There are six tenets I look for in an employee: it’s please and thank you, hello and goodbye, a smile and what’s your name.
Building relationships was how we were going to grow this business. Jeannie was the kind of person who once you were introduced to her, the next time she gave you a kiss. I’m not convinced that people are more enamored with what we serve, but how we serve it. We touch every customer.
I hear you make a great egg sandwich.
Our eggs are sourced in 21157 (Westminster’s zip code), and they are sustainably raised. We buy from partners at the farmer’s market, like Evermore Farm here in Westminster. Yet what sells our product is what’s going on on the outside. Our yeast-raised sweet potato biscuit is far and away our number one seller. We make our own English muffins. We are the only place in 20 miles that does freshly made, laminated, from-scratch croissants. We make two breads each day, a pan loaf sourdough and a classic French baguette. You have a choice of four different things that you can get your egg sandwich on, and that’s what sells it.
Now you’re stepping into a new role.
We’re moving into wine tasting. My goal is to sit a wine maker at this table here with 11 guests for a 90-minute lunch. We’ll serve some nice savories — hand pies, galettes, artisan and local cheeses and bread — but at the end of this experience I want guests to know that this winemaker has Australian shepherds or he has a five handicap when he plays golf. It’s an intimate event that we can have as the restaurant goes on around us.
You’ve spent most of your career in the wine industry.
I taught wine classes through the continuing education program at Carroll Community College and hosted them here. I want to introduce wine by the glass and integrate it into the menu, offer a well-chosen, lean selection of products and producers that I have had a long relationship with all over the globe.
We have lots of things that we do that are savory and very wine friendly, and from day one have promoted business as BYOB. We have real stemware here, and we serve the kind of cuisine, a slice of quiche, that you could drink a glass of wine with.
We don’t want to be a temple. We just want to be the “Cheers” of Main Street. We want to be a place where people can come, and being able to add wine is a value added.
Standup events, specialty intimate sit-down events, expanded farmers markets, wine events, catering.
You’re on a new path here—a wine guy running a bakery.
[This fall,] I walked away from 30 years in the wine and spirit industry but I knew this is where I had to be. Now I’m absolutely certain that this is where I was meant to be. Someone once told me that what Jeannie and I had is our encore career. This is the number you get called back to sing.
Signature Bacon Cheddar Scallion Scones
30 ounces King Arthur All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
1 ½ ounces Baking Powder
½ tablespoon Salt
1 ¾ ounces Sugar
1 tablespoon Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
3 ½ cups Heavy Cream
1 ½ pound Bacon
1 pound Grated Cheddar Cheese
1 bunch Scallions
1 Large egg
1 tablespoon Water
Beat egg in a small cup and add water and mix thoroughly.
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Cook bacon until crisp, cool and coarsely chop
Chop scallions, fine dice.
Mix by hand dry ingredients, bacon, scallions and cheese in a large bowl
Gradually add heavy cream until mixture holds together
Divide dough into 4 equal portions, form into disks of equal thickness and brush with egg wash
Cut each disk into 8 equal wedges
Bake at 400ºF, 12 minutes
Makes 32 Scones