Standing on the corner near Amy’s Bread in Hell’s Kitchen on a busy morning, the competing smells of New York City take over – indistinct wafting scents of food, garbage waiting to be picked up – but then the pleasant and distinct aroma of freshly baked goods cuts right through. “It’s like an oasis in the big city,” says Amy Scherber, owner of Amy’s Bread and former Plymouth resident.
In 1992, Scherber opened the bakery and cafe’s first location in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, with five employees. She modeled the small and cozy café after a French boulangerie, but wanted to instill a Midwestern sensibility. “While it doesn’t look Midwestern, I want it to feel that way,” Scherber says. Inside you’re greeted with friendly staff members ready to help you select cupcakes, bread twists, croissants, scones, sticky buns, sandwiches and loaves of bread.
Following the success of the first location, Scherber now has a staff of 220 employees with Manhattan cafes in Hell’s Kitchen, West Village and Chelsea, and smaller outposts at the New York Public Library and New York Library for the Performing Arts. Plus, next to Amy’s Bread in Hell’s Kitchen is the Pantry, which features local specialty foods from New York and Vermont. The carefully chosen selections pair well with Amy’s many bread varieties, which include the organic rustic Italian, tangy sourdough and rye with caraway.
Half of the business is the retail space and the other half is selling wholesale to area restaurants and specialty food stores in Manhattan and some areas of Brooklyn.
From Plymouth to New York City
A graduate of Wayzata High School, Scherber went on to St. Olaf College to earn a degree in economics and psychology. She eventually moved to New York City—with just three boxes—in her early 20s after accepting a job at a marketing firm. “I fell in love with New York even though it was challenging at times,” she says.
It was there Scherber discovered that her true calling was in the kitchen and she made the leap – going to the New York Restaurant School and then working as a cook at Bouley restaurant. She went to France for a few months in the late '80s to continue training before returning to New York to pursue bread baking. After finding the right store front and renovating it, she opened Amy’s Bread in 1992. The building formerly housed a fish market and had an old wooden storefront with carved trim and bay windows.
“The food industry was very exciting and I wanted to be a part of it, and I had built many connections in the restaurant industry through the years,” she says.
To mark its 24th anniversary in June, the staff wore Amy's Bread T-shirts, and celebrated with sandwiches and cake. Throughout the day, the cafes shared birthday cake with customers.
“Amy loves her staff. She wants to make sure everyone is being taken care of,” says Myrna Cunanan, an assistant retail manager who has been there for almost 13 years. “If you make sure your staff is happy, it’ll spread throughout the company and to customers as well.”
Cunanan says the staff works hard to accommodate everyone from regulars to tourists. “Having a good product in New York City and good customer service goes hand-in-hand.”
Signature baked goods and more
Amy’s Bread has a long list of customer favorites, including an oat scone which has a crunchy crust with fruit and nuts inside, semolina raisin fennel bread and chocolate twists, as well as sourdough. “The semolina raisin fennel put us on the map,” Scherber says.
The sourdough bread was the first bread Amy’s Bread made since they started baking out of a small space before moving to a larger facility in Queens. The sourdough would ferment during the day and bake at night.
In a competitive market, tweaking standbys to make them even better and adding new products help Amy’s Bread stand out. Newer items include a croissant twist available in pistachio, asiago or chocolate hazelnut, and a rhubarb pineapple muffin, inspired by a relative from Minnesota who makes a bread loaf with the same combination. The café and bakery aims to be a stop at all times of the day with its coffee, sandwiches, salads and snacks.
Scherber still has many friends in Plymouth; her mom and other family members live there. “Minnesota is always in my heart even though I’m not always there,” she says. Back in New York, Scherber says many Minnesotans stop in knowing her connection to back home.
Her husband, Troy Rohne, vice president of the company and director of sales, is also a Minnesota native from Lyle. The two met in New York; he moved there in 1995 after receiving a scholarship to the American Musical & Dramatic Arts Academy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He needed to work on the weekends and asked Scherber for a job in the office since he had a business degree.
“She only had a job on Sundays to shape bread. I could not get a job waiting tables since New York restaurants wanted New York experience so I learned how to shape bread. I eventually made my way to the office by end of 1995,” Rohne says.
In his role, Rohne works with chefs to create a bread program. He also dines at their restaurants to see Amy’s Bread at the table. One of Rohne’s biggest challenges is making sure everyone receives perfect products daily with on-time delivery.
“Running a bakery is 24 hours a day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. There is a Minnesota work ethic to make this happen. If it snows, you need to put your boots on and come to work to make the magic happen,” he says.
Scherber echos the same sentiment. “Every day is a new story. Some days are very hectic and we try to stay positive,” she says.