SARANAC, Mich. — “We're just kind of a niche little item, you know, so if people want a pasty, they come here.”
That’s how Tony Baumgartner sums up why he and his crew (which includes his son) make pasties in a little shop in Saranac called Viki’s Bridge Street Pasty Shop. It’s on Bridge Street, dontcha know.
After years of traveling for the auto business (really traveling: back and forth among several different states and a couple of stints in Europe), “I was sitting on the deck one day relaxing, drinking a few beers, when the idea came maybe I should open a pasty shop.”
He’s been at it for 12 years now.
And while he admits at first it was a struggle to get people to know about his shop, he now has people drive in from Lansing to the east, Up North, and Kalamazoo to the south, just for his pasties.
His reach is also far and wide for the other side of his business: Subs from his shop are sold at gas stations and convenience stores from Big Rapids to Kalamazoo and from Grand Rapids to Lansing.
But it’s the pasties that carried him through the pandemic. That’s because while other eateries had to set themselves up for takeout, Viki’s was mostly takeout already: “I've got three tables. It's not like we ever had a whole lot of dine in anyway.”
And when the pandemic came, people stocked up on pasties from Viki’s, because they could not only buy them fresh to eat, Baumgartner makes them available frozen to cook up later. And people buy them by the dozen.
Every pasty is handmade, even though the process is not easy. “I had no idea how much work it was to make these things,” he says. (Read the process at the end of this article if you dare.*) Maybe it helps that Tony was born and raised in the UP, eh?
Viki, by the way, is Baumgartner’s daughter, who was about 12 when he opened the shop. She lives in California now.
Viki’s Bridge Street Pasty Shop, 77 N. Bridge St., Saranac, 616-642-6855
“It begins with the dough. And we typically always make the dough the day before we're going to use it so it has a chance to get cold. And you go through a process of weighing up the flour, and the Crisco, and a touch of lard that we put in there, and we get that all weighed up, and then we start doing a mix. And when once we end up with this big ball of dough, and then we've got to sit down, and I sit there and I throw it on a scale and I weigh it up to 96-gram balls of it. My son takes it, rolls it around, and passes it, and we make like hockey pucks out of it. And then we'll just stack them up in a container and put them in a cooler, and we do 100 at a time when we do the dough, we'll make 100 pasties at a time.
"So then the next day, you take them out, you let them warm a little bit, you run them through a two-pass sheeter. So, you’re starting out with something that looks like a hockey puck, you run it through the first pass that kind of stretches it out, you turn it around, and feed it to the other rollers, and it kind of comes out like a like a pie crust. So, the next thing is putting the mixes together: you’ve got to weigh everything up, all the beef and getting the potatoes; potatoes are all peeled by hand. I had a machine but didn't care for it. So, we, every morning, first thing we do is peel 30, 40, 50 pounds of potatoes every morning. And the real tough part is really the rutabagas, because those things are typically … way bigger than softball, and their hard as the dickens, and they're covered with wax. So you got to peel those off with a knife. And then we got to sit there we got to hand dice those things (my son does that). And so he does about 9, 10 pounds of rutabagas every morning, just making little like the size of a small sugar cube for instance, cubing it up. We tried running the rutabagas through our potato dicer but about blew that thing off. Those beggars are so hard, it couldn't handle it. So that's all done by hand. So, there's a lot of labor intensity in making these things, a lot of handwork. And then once the mixes are done and we get everything mixed up, we'll take and we weigh it up into, usually eight and three quarters ounce of mix, we have our dough sheets laid out, we put the mix on there, and then you got to roll them over and then braid them shut and throw them in the oven, bake them up, half baked. We only bake everything halfway. And then as we need hot stuff, we just finish baking them. And then the half-baked stuff that we're not selling we throw in a freezer and freeze and we take them out the next day and wrap it up and label them stuff like that. So that's, it's a lot of hand work. There's approximately between seven and eight labor minutes in every pasty."