Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Michelle Roberts – Sasha’s Baking Company

By  0 Comments

The Queen Bee of Sasha’s Baking Company

Baking is an exact science, a creative process that requires absolute precision and practiced adaptation to produce the perfect bread, pastry or dessert. A pinch of that and a bit of this is not the normal course of action. Measurements must be precise, as the process demands exact specifications while offsetting factors such as temperature, humidity and other annoyances Mother Nature might throw into the mix.

Given the exact nature of baking, it makes sense that a bakery would employ individuals with these same characteristics. That’s why Michelle Roberts, owner of the award-winning bakery Sasha’s Baking Company in downtown Kansas City, is such a perfect fit for this vocation. Michelle began her work career as a civil engineer, a profession demanding exact measurements, techniques and knowledge. Now she has moved that skill set to operate the premier bakery in the metro.

“My engineering background has translated well to my business. The beauty of an engineering education is that it teaches you to problem solve. You have to think about all of the data and how to solve that problem,” noted Michelle. “As for baking, anything can affect how a dough bakes because there are so many variables; everything must be taken into account. I think of the entire process with engineering principles in mind.”

This Kansas City native received her engineering degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and spent time studying abroad in Israel. She put her engineering degree to work with a job in Florida, allowing her time and access for her passions of scuba diving and deep sea fishing. But in 1999, she decided to come back to Kansas City, landing a job at the Kansas City Water Company.

“I worked a lot with the redesign of the Brush Creek channel and modeled all of the sewer systems for that area entirely with calculations done by hand. Now, they use computers!” she laughed. “But I enjoyed it and I’m really proud of what I did. In fact, my co-workers gave me the title of Sewer Queen, complete with a pink hard hat covered with Barbie stickers.”

About three years ago she added another royal title to her resume when she became the “Queen Bee” and owner of Sasha’s Baking Company, a European bakery in the Library District of downtown Kansas City. Sasha’s offers a scrumptious selection of pastries, breads and savory breakfast and lunch items. These delicacies are handmade from scratch in the finest old-world traditions using local and international ingredients of the highest quality. “I’m very particular about what goes into my products. We use the finest ingredients such as European chocolates and butter, and it’s very expensive,” she noted. “However, if you want an authentic French pastry, you have to use ingredients from that area.”

It takes skilled hands to turn these ingredients into mouth-watering treats. Sasha’s Baking Company has attracted the finest talent in the Midwest and was honored in 2014 by The Pitch newspaper with its Critic’s Choice award for the Best New Bakery of KC and in 2015 with its Critic’s Choice award for Best Bakery.

Even though the similarities between engineering and baking are extensive, the jump from one profession to another seems a bit out of the ordinary. But for Michelle, her love and excitement for the world of baking began as a child. She recalls going to the bakery and being amazed by the selections offered and the tasty breads, pastries and other items being sold there. “When I was a child, I’d go to La Bonne Bouchee in Kansas City, and I’d see the beautiful pastries and baked goods and be so amazed,” she recalled. “It was then that my love of baking and cooking began, and many years later what led to establishing Sasha’s.”

While La Bonne Bouchee closed long ago, she was certain that this community would embrace a bakery focused on preparing everything by hand with the best ingredients available. “I thought to myself, ‘Where can I get good pastries in the Kansas City area?’ There really wasn’t that place. So I decided to fill this void, and Sasha’s would be that place,” she shared. “I wanted to offer the best-tasting pastries, bread and amazing lunches that were made by hand, and not mass produced. I wanted my artisanal bakery products to look handmade because they are handmade.”

Sasha’s Baking Company is housed in the Cosby Building at 105 West 9th Street in Kansas City. When Michelle viewed the space, she had to see past the rubble, disrepair and pigeons that lived there. Calling upon her engineering skill set, she realized the potential that the setting offered her dream. Immediately she got down to business, although it took a year and a half of restoration and hard work to make her dreams reality.

While she allows her phenomenal staff to attend to the baking side of the business, Michelle, as the Queen Bee, focuses on running the business. Handling all of the office work, grocery shopping and menu planning, Michelle basically functions as the glue that keeps everyone and everything together. “I have so much of myself invested in this space, and if I’m not here, I miss it. It’s such an extension of me because I’m in every facet. I enjoy my customers, and my team is just so great. They like to call me Mom.”

Michelle has organized one of the best teams in the region when it comes to baking and cooking, featuring Carter Holton, well known throughout the country for his skills. He has even won the Food Network Cake Challenge, and  he has been an annual competitor at the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show, where he has received multiple first place awards and three Best in Shows. “Carter is one of the great bakers in the region, and he’s incredibly knowledgeable, teaching at The Arts Institute International culinary school in Kansas City,” remarked Michelle. “I’ve managed to bring together a team that has brought my vision to life and makes it better every day. We have a great little family here at Sasha’s that has stayed constant since the day we opened. Everyone cares about the vision and the customers. Everyone takes ownership within the boundaries that we’re trying to achieve.”

The product cases at Sasha’s Baking Company are a delight and overwhelm the senses with their delicious offerings, but Michelle does have her favorites. “I recommend the chocolate croissant, which is a classic French pastry, and they sell out every day,” noted Michelle. “But you’ll find something different every day at Sasha’s as the team bakes according to their whims and the season. We have a flair for fun–fun cookies, desserts, pastries and unusual flavors. It keeps it a little more light-hearted and a fun place to be. Every day I walk in and I don’t know what I’m going to see in the case.”

While this successful business woman and single parent to nine-year-old Carmen and ten-year-old Wolfgang is incredibly busy with running Sasha’s Baking Company, she looks forward to holiday celebrations and spending time with her children. “I have a routine during the holidays, involving the children in decorating and baking. We enjoy making fresh-baked goods to give to friends and neighbors as a way to share the warmth and the joy of the season,” revealed Michelle. “Anytime I cook I find it very relaxing. I enjoy chopping vegetables and building a beautiful product. But most of all, I enjoy involving my family in the baking and then in the season of giving. It’s very reminiscent of my own childhood.”

While the effort to realize a long-held dream wasn’t an easy path for Michelle, she has thoroughly enjoyed the journey. In her recipe for success, she has combined determination and strength as the key ingredients that anyone can measure out in their own lives. “When you’re in a position that you have to have some grit, never give up; use setbacks as an opportunity to learn and don’t underestimate your own strength,” stated Michelle. “My life certainly revolves around my business and my children, but I never forget about me. Of course there have been hardships, but no matter what, I didn’t lose sight of my vision and overcame the obstacles in front of me.”

Michelle’s confidence can be tasted in every bite of goodness on her award-winning menu. From the croissant to the macaron, to a savory sandwich or soup, glass of wine or even a huge catered event, Sasha’s Baking Company is the place to visit for exceptional delicacies. Her transition from engineering waterways to engineering a fantastic European bakery has been an incredible journey not only for her, but for hungry Kansas Citians as well. HLM


Visit the website at Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Sasha’s is closed Sunday and Monday.