Jenny Lee had an excuse to look tired Saturday afternoon, if she wanted one. By 1 p.m., the owner of Flint Hills Market and Bakery in Florence had already put in a full workday, and had six more hours to go.
But she was upbeat and relaxed as she looked at bare shelves and cases that earlier were filled with bread, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and pies. The last loaf of bread, sourdough, had just disappeared.
“They cleaned me out, my entire bakery,” Lee said. “Everything is gone.”
The first customer was waiting as Lee unlocked the door at 7 a.m., and doughnuts were the first item to vanish. Mayor Bob Gayle was among those who missed out.
“I understand many, many dozens of doughnuts went away before I got here, and you can tell I’m a doughnut lover, so I’m a little disappointed,” he said.
Lee’s sister and chief baker Catie Zurcher said the demand for doughnuts caught them by surprise.
“It was crazy from 7 to 11,” she said. “We lost count of how many additional batches we made. I know we went through at least 20 dozen.”
Community members have been curious, some of whom have been peering through the windows in recent months to get a glimpse of what Randy and Judy Mills had in store for the four-year restoration of the historic opera house.
The building, which opened in 1884, was designed to house retail business on the first floor, with the opera house and offices upstairs. The last business to use the building was Wilbur’s Market, which closed in 2008.
Lee, who moved to Florence in April from Des Moines, Iowa, became acquainted with the town when her father, Jeff Lee, became pastor of Methodist churches in Florence and Aulne two years ago.
“The first time I saw town I was enchanted with the architecture,” she said. “There’s so much history here.”
Lee said she approached the Millses about putting a market and bakery in the building about a year and a half ago, and they were receptive.
“We were able to make a deal, and they were able to remodel toward what I wanted to do,” Lee said. “They’ve been really great. I’m so blessed.”
Everything from the extensive woodwork and antique cabinets to windmill-like ceiling fans and stained glass were designed to create a unique shopping experience, Lee said.
“The whole point of it looking the way it does was that we realized we needed to draw from more than just Florence,” she said. “It needed to be something worth traveling to see.”
While Lee had experience working in a bakery and in food service, this is her first venture into the grocery business. She said she expects a few “bumps in the road” as she learns what her customers want.
“It’s very uncharted territory for me,” she said. “For the most part, what you’re seeing here are things I’ve picked out, but I don’t know the market here. Even today, selling out of all this stuff is great, but on the other hand, what do I expect? How do you prepare?”
Lee said she’ll take special orders to accommodate customers as she adjusts her inventory. That practice started Saturday in the bakery with pies. Zurcher filled seven special orders in additional to the day’s offering of chocolate, coconut crème, and apple pies.
“One of the things we’re finding a niche in is our pies,” Lee said. “My mom is an excellent pie maker, so it’s kind of a nostalgic thing for us. We watched her make pies our whole lives.”
Deli-style sandwiches, made with the market’s bread, and salads will be available every day for lunch, Lee said. The market will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except the bakery will be closed Monday mornings.
Lee said she doesn’t expect people to shop in her store just because it’s convenient.
“People have obviously been living in Florence without a grocery for a lot of years,” she said. “In order for them to change their patterns, I have to make it worth it to them.”
Saturday was a good start toward that goal.
“We really brought some life to downtown Florence today, I can tell you that,” she said. “More than I’ve seen in a while. The street’s been full all day and it feels good.”