A Piece of Polebridge in Downtown Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

Downtown Kalispell has a lot of things Polebridge doesn’t. If you’re the type of person who goes for such amenities, Kalispell offers paved roads, shopping, restaurants, schools and other trappings of modern life. But for a long time, Polebridge had one big advantage: the legendary baked goods at the Polebridge Mercantile. Now, with Ben Kaufman, the son of the baker at the Polebridge Mercantile, about to open his own place on First Avenue East, Kalispell may be evening the score on the bakery front as well.

Kaufman, whose father Dan Kaufman is a co-owner of the Polebridge Mercantile, plans to re-open the Avalanche Creek Bakery and Coffeehouse by the end of September. Along with his partner Megan Bortz and their 14-month-old daughter Abigail, the family plans to offer another casual dining option in Kalispell serving bread, cakes, cinnamon rolls, pastries, coffee and tea. Kaufman also plans to offer hot and cold sandwiches, along with soups and salads. The hot, baked sandwiches will be reminiscent of those served at the Mercantile.

Ben Kaufman, Megan Bortz and Abigail Kaufman, left to right, plan on opening the Avalanche Creek Bakery and Coffeehouse later this month.

A fourth-generation baker, Kaufman’s great grandfather was a pastry chef at a hotel in Germany. As a child, Kaufman helped his grandfather at his bakery in Pinehurst, Idaho.

“I grew up in the back of a bakery and started frying donuts for my grandfather when I was 12 years old,” he said. Kaufman, 36, spent a number of years in Seattle, where he worked for several bakeries, including as director of operations at Coffaro’s Bakery, which specializes in biscotti, bakery manager at a Safeway supermarket and at Alki Bakery. During that time, Kaufman made a point of learning how to bake everything.

“To be a journeyman you had to basically know everything from cake decorating to breads,” Kaufman said. “Everybody’s specializing and I like to touch on it all – there’s really no part of it I don’t enjoy.”

In 1997, he moved to Polebridge to help his father run the bakery at the Mercantile. Five years later, he opened the Dancing Bear bakery in Whitefish, which closed in 2004. There, Kaufman said he learned the difference between knowing how to bake and how to run a small business that required a better advertising strategy in a place with more competition than the North Fork.

“I took it for granted, being in Polebridge for so many years, where the crowds came to us,” he said, but he also knew Kalispell was where he wanted to try again.

Baking tools hand in the kitchen of Avalanche Creek Bakery and Coffeehouse in Kalispell.

For the last few years, Kaufman has been working at the Grateful Bread in Bigfork, in exchange for use of their kitchen on Friday nights to make his own baked goods to sell at the Kalispell Farmer’s Market the following mornings. When Bortz’s parents visited and witnessed the following that had developed for Kaufman’s baked goods, they decided to help launch a bigger business.

Bortz and Kaufman have spent the last several weeks renovating, repainting and installing new equipment in their 2,000-square-foot space. They envision their business as a place where customers can get a hot sandwich and soup, a slice of cake, and an espresso with milk derived from the hemp plant. And, as Abigail toddles around the coffeehouse, they hope it will be a place for families to feel comfortable.

“We wouldn’t mind having a lot more little kids running around in here,” Kaufman said.

As of last week, Kaufman was buying plants for his place and beginning to plan the menu. His goal is to keep prices reasonable as well, which is part of why he had success at the Farmer’s Market. He anticipates charging around 45 cents for cookies, around $5 for a sandwich and loaves of bread ranging from $3 to $6.

“We’re definitely a bit more moderately priced,” he said. Eventually Kaufman hopes to keep the bakery open as late as 10 p.m., with live music, allowing people to have dessert and coffee in the evenings. He hopes he can add something new to Kalispell that will complement the existing downtown businesses.

Abigail Kaufman gets a ride from her mom, Megan Bortz, around the renovated Avalanche Creek Bakery and Coffeehouse in Kalispell.

“We’ve got quite a little gathering of bakers in downtown,” he said. “You’ve got a variety of bakeries to choose from and each will fill a pretty good niche.”