Cris Janoff, the personable one-man welcoming committee at Stone Mill Bakery, might very well be the most familiar face in north Baltimore. He knows everybody, or, if not, at least he makes them feel like he knows them. “Good to see you, my friend.” “What would you like, my friend?” “Take a seat, my friend.” At Stone Mill, customers recognize that they’ll get some of the best bread in Baltimore, and they also know Cris is going to take good care of them. Style recently snagged a spot in the shade at one of Stone Mill’s outdoor tables to try to ask Cris the secrets that allow him to serve up a full plate of Mediterranean sunniness to customers every day.
>Baltimore makes me feel rooted, connected to earth. It’s nice to go away and be enchanted and inspired, but then I like to bring those feelings back here. This is my home.
>I’m plumbing into the depths of this adventure. I never think of Stone Mill Bakery as one of the best bakeries in Baltimore or even Maryland. I think of it as one of the best bakeries in the world. I’ve been from here to San Francisco, and I’ve been to a few jewels, but there aren’t that many jewels. The food is great here, yes— but more than that, this place makes you feel good.
>This stage makes me feel inspired, to care, to be passionate about something, about people. Alfie [Alfie Himmelrich, the owner] gets it. He gets what I do. He has artistic vision, architectural vision, people vision. He gives me this stage.
>Food is a prop for something greater. There aren’t a lot of places to go in Baltimore where you can feel special. We understand the importance of creating a place where people feel good.
>It’s amazing to see the change that Stone Mill and I have gone through since we began, and people have been drinking from our change consistently for years. Something was lacking in my life before I came here; the connecting to people has been so meaningful to me.
>It’s about spirit. Inside and out, this is a free, wonderful place to be. I try to give the customers the spirit that I’d like.
>People want what they want, be it in a graceful way or in an arrogant way.
>I’m a sweet, gentle, loving guy. While I’m so much more than a cashier, that’s how some people see me. It cuts to be seen that way. I choose to call the judgmental people on their arrogance in a positive way. ‘Why aren’t you smiling? It’s a beautiful day!’ This might be my favorite thing to do… challenge arrogant people when they’re in a negative place.
>However, I’m human. I see the whole landscape here— from the most beautiful souls to the most profanely ugly. I go from a Buddha to, unfortunately… well, sometimes I sink to their level.
>You have to keep trying. It’s a long marathon. It’s an intense proposition to have all these people to take care of all day, and it is my job and my joy to do so.
>You have to get away. Here, on the mountaintop [Stone Mill Bakery], it’s great to be where the wind is blowing strong. But at home in Monkton, living next to the Gunpowder offers absolutely, positively much-needed healing. It’s a soothing force for me. The river is a sweet, mental presence that levels me out.
>Everyone knows I’m Mr. Positive, Mr. Spiritual, Mr. Passionate. And there’s a reason for that. When I’m at my best and someone is open to me— even if they start out in a negative mood— that’s the dance and we both get something out of it.
>My biggest mistake in life is to jump back from it. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made were the moments in my life where I’ve lived in fear of the moment, and missed the moment.
>Music always brings me back to remind me to be in the moment… as Thoreau said ‘to suck the marrow of life.’
>Something stoked the fire of my curiosity— it was a book that Jim Olsen gave me by Ram Dass called ‘The Only Dance There Is.’ This book helped me unfold. It reminded me that everything is grist for the mill. Even the pointless, why-me moments are grist for the mill.
>To recover from a disaster is a long, tough journey and you have to feel it as much as possible; don’t hide from it, but reap the wisdom from the pain so you can get through it to the next stage in your life. The most difficult, arduous journey will catapult you in the most powerful, meaningful way if you’re willing to face it, feel it, go through it and not hide from it.
>My greatest desire, the thing I want to happen most in my life, is to love and cherish a woman and treat her like she’s the most precious thing in my world. Wherever she is, she’s the biggest missing piece to my puzzle. As time goes by, I can feel her getting nearer. And if you’re reading this article, just come in and tell me you’re her. I’ll know you.