Uprise Bakery starts and ends the day with its customers, but the people who make it all happen never rest.
10 Hitt St. in downtown Columbia is the only place in the world where you can find a bakery, café, coffee shop, bar, movie theater, and record store under a roof that originally housed a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Uprise Bakery, Ragtag Cinema, and Hitt Records make up an eclectic mix that somehow seems to work while navigating the same space — a space that smells like fresh-baked bread. Uprise Bakery co-owner Ron Rottinghaus started baking bread at a bakery in Telluride, Colorado, but it wasn’t until he moved to Columbia in the late 1990s that the idea for the business came along. Ron was browsing the shelves in the former Acorn Bookstore in downtown Columbia when he found a copy of “Breads from the La Brea Bakery,” by Nancy Silverton. That’s where he started unraveling the mysteries of naturally leavened bread, commonly referred to as sourdough.
A Missouri native and MU graduate, Ron made bread at the now-shuttered Trattoria Strada Nova and Cucina Sorella before he realized his dream to open a bakery in 2001, in the current Broadway Brewery location. Ron credits co-owner Holly Roberson with being “fundamental in taking the bakery from an idea to a reality and providing security in our fragile early years.”
Miles to Go Before Anyone Sleeps
If you’re a bakery, you open early. If you’re a bar, you stay open late. Although the front doors aren’t open 24 hours a day, there’s someone on the clock all the time at Uprise. The business opens at 7 a.m. and closes at midnight or 1 a.m. The kitchen closes at 5 p.m., just as the bartenders get going. The bakers go to work at about 10 p.m. When the bar closes, the front doors are locked, but the kitchen work continues through the night. The pastry pros arrive at 5 a.m., customers arrive at 7 a.m., and the bread crew finishes up by 9 a.m. It’s a never-ending cycle that raises the question: When does Ron sleep?
When he’s not baking bread, Ron spends time in the office, running the business. He used to bake bread five nights a week, so sleep was elusive. As the business grew and his bakers gained experience, he started baking only two nights a week. Working short-staffed since the onset of the pandemic, everyone covers shifts when necessary. That can mean a lot of extra hours, despite the fact the kitchen now closes earlier than it did pre-pandemic. Many weeks, Ron is back to working five nights. Pandemic or not, Uprise Bakery’s bread is a hot ticket.
The Art of Baking Bread
There’s an art to baking bread, especially if you’re using natural leavening that requires “feeding” three times a day. Uprise may sell up to 300 loaves of bread at the Columbia Farmers Market. Although they have about 10 different breads on their baking schedule, sourdough is the biggest seller inside the Hitt Street location and out.
Ron says the Uprise bakers are artisans rather than artists, so they leave the “big hats” and chef attire at home.
“It’s the work of it. It’s the same thing over and over, every day. It’s a physical job where we’ve developed experience and nuanced skills like the work in old bakeries,” Ron says. “We wouldn’t use mixers if we didn’t have to make so many loaves of bread, but we hand scale and hand shape everything.”
Despite the repetitive physical labor, Ron says baking is his favorite part of the job.
“It’s hard not to appreciate it when you’re making anything,” he says. “It’s hard not to take just a little pride and get a little satisfaction out of producing something. It can be infectious.”
Ron says their soups, with their warmth and nourishment, are also part of the soul of the bakery.
“Anyone can make bread. Anyone can make soup. What we’re saving people is the inordinate amount of time and care it takes to make them,” Ron says.
It’s All About the People
Uprise Bakery moved to “Hittsville,” as the building is known, in 2008. The business is a team comprising bread bakers, pastry makers, chefs, cooks, bartenders, front-of-house staff, and family. Ron’s wife, Courtney, has managed the hugely popular Uprise presence at the farmers market for 20 years. Their sons, Hunter and Luke, also work for the business.
Kenny Keune manages the cafe’s kitchen. Erika Bartlow manages front-of-house staff, but you can also find her baking. Aaron Persky has been baking bread at Uprise for eight years. Bill Bellinghausen manages the bar staffed by the most tenured employees, some whom have worked there since the Hitt Street opening.
Ron wants employees to enjoy their jobs, not feel like they’re “clocking into jail.” Like many businesses, particularly in the post-pandemic restaurant industry, Uprise is always looking for staff who like what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with.
“It’s kind of nice to have a place where people hang out when they’re not working. That’s where you can tell the kind of place you have. If you’re not having fun with the people you’re working with, I don’t know how long you’ll last,” Ron says. “The greatest thing about having a bakery is the people.”
Breaking Bread All Over Town
You don’t need to visit the bakery to enjoy its wares. Besides the farmers market, you can buy Uprise bread at Clovers Natural Market, Hy-Vee, and EatWell. Some Columbia restaurants, including Broadway Brewery, Café Berlin, and Sycamore Restaurant, use Uprise bread.
Uprise’s customers are as eclectic as Hittsville, serving a mix of people of all ages who live and work downtown.
“It’s pleasant to see a diverse crowd. We hope to feel like the kind of place where everybody’s comfortable,” Ron says. “We’ve built on thin layer of thin layer of thin layer of people who come here, some from the earliest days.”
Since those earliest days, some things haven’t changed.
“We try to do what we look to do as best we can,” Ron says. “We spend a lot of effort on the few things we do.”
That means no one’s loafing around.
10 Hitt St.