Is Michelle Garcia defecting from Bleeding Heart Bakery?

Bleeding Heart Bakery

Bleeding Heart Bakery Photograph: Martha Williams

On March 11, a Facebook page was created to promote a fundraiser for Bleeding Heart Bakery. The page (and fundraiser), which was apparently created by BHB employees, had a startling name: SOB: Save Our Bakery.

"With the opening of The Bleeding Heart Bakery’s latest endeavor, The Bleeding Heart SIDESHOW, BHB has fallen into a bit of a rough patch and [we] have decided it’s time for them to ask for help," the page's About section reads.

Updates to the page took a slightly more alarmist tone:

"We will NOT go quietly into the night," reads a post from March 16th. "Punk rock pastries for LIFE!"

Some BHB customers were confused. A facebook user named Michael* made the following comment on that March 16th post: "To be honest, I'm still not sure what's going on. You're expanding, you've got the great space on Chicago, the new space on Belmont, and great exposure on TV. Why a fundraiser? Wouldn't this be better left to investors?"

At this point, a theme about the West Town location emerged.

"Michael, the Chicago Ave location is not ours...its [SIC] run and managed by partners," an unnamed SOB admin wrote. On Sunday, a page admin who identified herself as Courtney wrote a post on the page that went further:

"People are confused as to why BHB would NEED a fundraiser," she wrote. "I think a lot of people are using the West Town/Chicago Avenue location as their basis for these judgments. The place is HUGE with a corporate taste, so that means the company is rolling in the dough right? Wrong. Michelle recently had a Q&A session at the Lincoln Park Apple Store in which she said, 'I wanted to see what someone could do with the brand if they had millions of dollars to use on it.' Yes, West Town carries on the Bleeding Heart Bakery name and aesthetic but Vinny and Michelle are very, very minimally involved and it is managed and run by their partners. Due to the slight loss of vision with the West Town location, Michelle and Vinny set out to create a bakery that was absolutely, 100% true to their vision. From the art on the walls, to the items in the cases, they wanted a place that they could love and support their children and passion in, and that us employees could love and thrive in our workspace in."

Multiple postings on the page stressed the fact that it was being written by BHB employees, and not necessarily BHB owners Michelle and Vinny Garcia, who teamed with Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner (the Fifty/50, Roots Handmade Pizza) for the West Town location (but not the other BHBs). But when I reached out to Michelle and asked if she was distancing herself from the West Town location, she seemed to echo the Facebook page's sentiments:

"I wish I could answer you," she wrote in an email. "Legally, I can't. All I can say is that Vinny and I have chosen to re-open a kitchen, on Belmont, which is what BHB was and is supposed to be. A lot of West Town employees chose to follow us here and this location is FINALLY what our dream was all along."

When I read this response to Mohr, he seemed genuinely surprised. "I'm taken aback by that statement," he said. Mohr says that the partnership between him and the Garcias is essentially the same as it was when the West Town location opened in August. "Scott and I have always been in control of day to day operations," he says; the Garcias were (and, according to Mohr, still are) the creative minds behind the place. Mohr says the recipes used at BHB West Town are Michelle's, that Michelle and Vinny continue to earn a salary from the store, and "we're basically equal owners."

But there have been some unexpected developments at the West Town store. For example, Mohr says that business at the bakery has been so good that the glass-walled cake studio that was originally meant to be Vinny's cake-decorating home had to be utilized as a "stock studio." That and other creative compromises that were a result of brisk business created a sitaution that "was not exactly what [Michelle and Vinny] wanted," Mohr says. So the Garcias planned a new Belmont location (the Sideshow) where they could have the creative control they were seeking at West Town. That's where the Garcias have been spending most of their time and energy, though to hear Mohr talk about it, their absence didn't necessarily indicate a rift or dissatisfaction with the West Town location. And as for West Town employees defecting for the Belmont store, Mohr says he only knows of two such employees; otherwise the retention at the West Town location has been unusually high. His best guess is that if anybody left West Town to go to Belmont, it may be people who had been fired.

Could those fired employees be the ones behind the SOB page? Until the legal restrictions are lifted, I guess we won't know. As for the SOB fundraiser, it's still slated to happen at Cobra Lounge on Friday April 13.

* At Michael's request, his last name was removed from this post. His comment also appearts to have been deleted from the Facebook page, though not by him.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)