The Fabulous Baker Boys

I most enjoy traveling when I learn a little about the lives of the people we encounter.

Bar (yes, the garage door opens) on the left, tasting room on the right.

The second night of Summerpalooza21 we stayed with a Harvest Hosts participant. We rolled into the Rush Creek Distillery in Harvard, Illinois at around 3PM. The distillery was situated among a few other buildings in what looked to be a former cornfield. I hopped out of the RV and went inside to identify ourselves and to find out where we should park the rig . I opened the door to find a beautiful bar area in full swing. Everyone was very jolly indeed for 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. I wandered into the tasting room which was a bit quieter and told the most likely looking employee-type person I ran into something lame like “Hi, I’m Pam and we’re with Harvest Hosts, wanna see my membership card?” He turned away from me and in his very best bar-volume voice said “Hey! WE LOVE HARVEST HOSTS PEOPLE! “HEY, THIS IS PAM AND SHE’S STAYING WITH US!” Everyone stared, and I waved weakly like the person in the audience who is targeted with a glaring spotlight and asked to “stand up and say a few words.” I asked if we were parked in the right place and my new friend poked his head out the door . “You’re fine! Come on in and have a drink!” I allowed as we would after we got settled.

Mark Stricker with his new SuperFanBoy Gumbo

A little later we returned to the tasting room where we Met Mark Stricker, one of the distillery’s owner-partners and a lifelong resident of Harvard. The distillery makes craft vodka, bourbon, gin and whiskey. Ben was a bit disappointed as he is a Scotch fan, But I had fun sampling the bourbon. Mark had engineered a dispenser that looked slightly lethal, like a 3 foot long blowpipe gun. It dispensed little 1/4 shot cups for tasting samples. We asked him how he came to be at the helm of a distillery. Mark told us that he, his brother Todd and friends Jay Nolan and Jeff McCarthy were having a drink together and dreaming of starting their own business around craft spirits. Most of us talk about those kind of “if-then” dreams, right? Dreams like, “If I had the time and money, then I’d get a boat and learn to sail,” or “If I was brave enough to quit my job then I would open an art gallery,” and so on. Well, these guys had the “if-then” conversation and acted on it. I won’t go into their whole story; it’s on their website along with a cocktail recipe from each person. RCD Four Guys

Mark was a great host. In the afternoon lull before evening patrons came in we had a chance to chat. He made a big deal over the two red dogs to the point that Gumbo was smitten with him. Then again, Gumbo is smitten with everyone he meets. Dogs are gate-keepers of social interaction and Mark stated to talk about his family, telling us about his business and his family. It turned out that Mark’s third brother Kurt owned a business just behind Mark’s. Kurt Stricker’s Pound Bakery is a wholesale company that produces high-quality natural dog treats.

I wondered how three brothers came to be such successful entrepreneurs. Mark had mentioned that he and his brothers worked in the family bakery before they became business people. I did a little internet research—I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find a family of bakers in small-town Harvard. It turns out that the Stricker boys represent the third generation of a family of professional bakers. The Stricker family has operated the Swiss Maid Bakery in Harvard since 1943. There are six Stricker brothers in total; the brothers acquired their business acumen working in their parents’ bakery. It makes perfect sense. Baking is both an art and a science. Quality ingredients are key to good bread. Get the formula wrong and the dough won’t rise. Kneading and shaping the dough just so ensures a beautiful product. Baking at the right temperature makes the difference between a delicious crust and tender crumb or a dry tough product. The idea that a bunch of choosy bakers were so successful in their chosen crafts is no surprise. An appreciation for process, precision and product is necessary for running any business. Mark made a point of telling me that an important aspect of the business was that in addition to producing quality spirits, the business had to be a source of fun for him, his partners and his customers. Judging from our experience at the distillery, they have most definitely met both the quality and fun criteria. Business has been taking off at the distillery, so much that they need to ramp up production. The distilling building is getting a new addition to accommodate their need to expand. My research turned up an excellent article about the brothers, their businesses and their parents’ bakery. In case you’re wondering, all six brothers have done exceedingly well. If you’re interesting in learning more, check out the story here: Stricker Swiss Maid Bakery.

We contributed to the distillery’s future by buying a couple bottles of bourbon, one for our neighbor Dave who is back home watching over our house and one for me. Ben will have to find his scotch elsewhere. That night the bar had a band and was open late. We declined as we’d gotten jolly enough in the afternoon. Truthfully I was the one who was overly jolly with my sampling–all in the interest of good journalism. Nothing is spared when it comes to accurate reporting from RedDogOnWheels! The next morning Mark and the rest of the crew were busy getting set up for a wedding reception to be held at the distillery. We waved goodbye to them; both Red Dogs crammed their heads in the window to say farewell. We pulled out just as the caterers were arriving to get set up. We just may have to make Harvard, Illinois a permanent detour on our northbound routes. You should do the same. I guarantee you’ll have fun.

Farm on one side, bourbon on the other. A fine place to spend a lovely summer night.

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