Sometimes I’m moved to tears by the strangest things: cartoons, hammer drills (long story), my first house that I’ve finished as an architect or in this case a chocolate croissant. The story behind the last one is quickly told: a move to America, a little homesickness, a tiny fear of the American cuisine and the discovery of the mentioned chocolate-croissant. This little story happened last November while I was striving to find the most beautiful places in Knoxville. The Wild Love Bakehouse was pretty much the first coffee shop I’ve visited during my expedition. And there it was, this little, wonderfully filled dough jewel that made me burst into tears.
Two weeks ago I had the chance to talk to Meg, who owns the café with her husband Shaun.
The Wild Love Bakehouse isn’t their first shop. They also run the Old City Java, where the two of them, still young and wild met each other and fell in love. As the coffeeshop became available in 2007 the couple took the chance and bought it from the previous owner. In the following year they cleared out everything: got married, bought a house and invested in their first café. Don’t wait, just do it!
Meg, who’ve already worked at Old City Java during her studies of fine art, first ran the Old City Java on her own. Thanks to their new concept Shaun could also start full-time in 2011. Soon a new idea made the fingers of the two itchy: the dream to start a bakery. They decided to do it and began to look for a suitable place. Some time and several disappointments later their realtor found an interesting building in North Knoxville. Both of them weren’t convinced at first sight: a rundown vehicle repair shop with nailed up windows, surrounded by a desolate asphalt surface. After a few steps into the first room, however, both were sure: this abandoned place was exactly what they were looking for! Fortunately the couple did not have to look any further for an architecture office. Both have been following the work of Sander Pace Architecture for a long time and they were thrilled when the company accepted their project.
Long story short, in December 2015 Meg and Shaun were able to open the doors to their Wild Love Bakehouse and from then on they’re not only charming Knoxville with their delicious pastry but all of America, too.
There are two explanations for the quite unique name and both are highly sympathetic. On the one hand the café is named after the song “Wild Love” by Smog, that Meg and Shaun has been accompanying for a long time. On the other hand, the Wild Love Team – the owners, of course, included – do everything with love and passion. It is this “wild love” which makes the little bakery north of Knoxville so special.
During the interview Meg told me that this is really important for them when the look for new employees. You can teach everyone how to bake and how to make coffee but you cannot teach them to take care and to pay attention to details. That is something you either have or dont have. Honestly, I’m totally with them.
Meanwhile they gathered a great team and everybody is highly committed to their task. Shaun is responsible for the coffee and the related training. The pastries, the reason why the Wild Love Bakehouse is so well known, are Megs responsibility. Her family always loved to bake. When you grow up with something your family is quite passionate about, you’ll probably develop a deep love for this activity, too and learn the basics in a nice and easy way. Everybody in my family enjoyed cooking. That might be the reasons why it became one of my great passions. In addition to family traditions, everyone is affected by other things, for example their studies. Finally, creativity isn’t limited to a canvas.
Meg and her girls work day in, day out in their bakehouse which is one of the most enchanting I have ever been able to enter. They create delicious homemade snacks, small dishes for lunch and, most importantly, their European-inspired pastries. In fact, you can find everything you’re starving for: from French Pain au Chocolate (aka chocolate croissant) to British Scone.
The couple finds the inspiration for their recipes on travels to New York and the West Coast of the USA. European cuisine is more popular over there. Whereas dishes in the South are more traditional American and actually, a lot of the food around here is fried. Meg’s family tradition and her joy in textbooks and trade journals on the subject of baking also contributes to the fact that you’ll always find something new, carefully prepared in the counter of the Wild Love Bakehouse.
Another important aspect, which makes the pastries so wonderful, are the ingredients. Like me, Meg and Shaun put a great value on seasonal and regional shopping to support the environment, the health of their customers, and above all, the local businesses. They visit the farmers and talk to them or meet them at the weekly market in Knoxville. If they cannot find a product, they can always ask their friends and neighbors if anyone knows where the product might be available in the area. Many other shops, such as the K-Brew or Magpies, are also located in North Knoxville and everyone is there for another. Like a great, wonderful community, with the goal to support each other and spoil us with wonderful treats.
So if you want to have really good pastry or just a cup of coffee, go to North Knoxville. To be honest, for me the neighborhood is even more interesting than Downtown Knoxville. As a former industrial area, it’s still quite scruffy and less perfect. This has a certain charm. Of course, most people come by car because of the somewhat remote location. But everybody is more than willing to do that! Whenever I’m in Knoxville I try to go to the Wild Love Bakehouse for lunch or actually choose the place for my meetings. I literally take every chance to stop by and enjoy a chocolate croissant.
Now you might think the Wild Love Bakehouse is just a place for the young Knoxvilleans. However, it is a place for everyone, for the little ones and grownups, for teenies and grandparents, for hipsters and philistines, … All these people love to come there and take a little break from their daily rountine. It’s hardly necessary for them to advertise. The Wild Love Bakehouse is represented in social media and has a booth at the weekly Farmers Market, but that’s it. The couples cool calculation for a warm home: Be passionate about the things you love and care about what you do. This way the people will beat a path to your door.
Speaking of doors, let’s have a quick look at the architecture and the design of the shop. I’m really not sorry about that. It’s necessary! It would be wrong to deny my origin.
With the help of Sander Pace Architecture, Meg and Shaun created a wonderful space. The old vehicle repair facility was carefully transformed into a chic and modern café with industrial references. They renovated the red brick exterior walls of the one-story building carefully and highlighted the entrance with black panels. The industrial style has also been preserved on the inside and has been supplemented by simple elements. Honey-colored wood, hand-made tiles and accents in a warm blue tone create a cozy and welcoming atmosphere in the coffeeshop. The ceiling of the seating area is a white painted, open steel structure. Thanks to the large windows the main room is filled with natural light. On grey days, stylish hanging lamps serve as a warm light sources. A glass wall provides views into the kitchen and everyone has the opportunity to see the busy bakers in action. The long counter displays the baked goods neatly and does not block the view. I love to watch the Wild Love team preparing food and making coffee. It’s fun and it gives me a good feeling. By repeating elements such as their logo, colors and materials they’ve created an appealing overall concept . As a design nerd I love to find their logo on the small metal milk jugs and the fact that the the color of the wall paint matches the color of the coffee mugs.
If you are more into sitting outside, you can find a wonderful place on the patio. The floor is made of large wooden planks and wood was also used for the long, inviting bench as well as the skirtings of the terrace. With corten steel railing and a touch of visible concrete the industrial theme is repeated again. The warm, earthy colors and small details like light chains, a sun screen and an adjoining herb garden complete the picture. I have spent many lazy hours on this patio by doing nothing but looking into the beautiful Tennessee sky. You cannot always be productive.
For the future, Meg and Shaun want their Wild Love Bakehouse to grow further and thrive. But they won’t rest on their laurels. Both seem to have itchy fingers again. Believe it or not: one day before my meeting with Meg the couple announced that they will open a new café in the city. Who would have thought that!
I’m definitely looking forward to the new café called Pearl on Union. They named their new store after Shaun’s grandmother, a passionate chef. Pearl and her husband loved food and it was always important for them. Glasses of pickles with vegetables and fruits from their own garden filled the shelves of their cozy kitchen. Their passion for good food is the basic idea for the new shop. Delicious, healthy snacks to take away, that can, of course also be eaten there. The concept is somewhere between the Wild Love Bakehouse and the Old City Java. I’m pretty sure it will be amazing and in its own way wonderfully charming.
PS: Thank you very much to the great Wild Love Team, which has welcomed me kindly and endured that I and my camera were in their way for a whole morning.