During the busyness of a daily routine — with kids to drop off, meetings to make, phones to check — not much can make you stop in your tracks.
But Rhonda Groh has seen it happen a few times. Customers walk in the door of her bakery in Eldridge and their feet stop still as the wave hits them.
It’s the smell of scones, muffins, cookies and danish pastries you can barely pronounce. The wafting scent of croissants cooling. It’s the aroma of Rhonda Groh, who owns Eastern Iowa Baking Co., at work.
“It tends to catch people, every now and then,” Groh said. “We all have a sweet tooth and crave an indulgent moment in the day where you just go for it.”
If customers are going to indulge, Groh wants it to be worth it. Not the store-bought cookies or the McDonald's coffee or the packaged muffins.
“We also didn’t want anything to be pretentious, like other places” she said. “We don’t do that. It’s either honest food and good coffee or it’s not.”
Groh arrives early, “like any good baker,” she says, and starts the everything-from-scratch morning checklist that often stretches to the afternoon. She keeps refilling the plates at the front counter with fresh batches, and brews pots and pots of coffee. And now, she’s excusing herself to check on the flourless chocolate cakes in the oven.
“You can’t have too-gooey cakes,” she said, returning to her place at the table with coffee cup in hand.
Groh, 60, opened the bakery a year ago — but it's been an on-again, off-again dream for most of her life.
There are photos of Groh as an infant sitting in the drawer of her mother’s kitchen cabinets, with measuring cups and bags of flour in the background. She remembers baking with her mom most weekends, and building a list of recipes together. She started catering when she was 17, and was the go-to cook for dorm-wide meals in college.
"I grew up with it," she said. "It's full of good memories. And that sticks with you."
She didn't take the baking business seriously until her 40s, when she went to culinary school to become a pastry chef. She worked at upscale restaurants where she’d hide engagement rings in the desserts and perfected the frosting for wedding cakes.
"We would always sneak a peek from the kitchen to see their faces," she said. "You pretty much always remember a good dessert like that."
When Groh and her family moved to the Quad-Cities, she put her bakery dream on hold again. She worked in school lunch kitchens, catered for colleges and sold her baked-goods at farmers markets. She opened a bakery inside a general store in Davenport, called The Bakery, in 2011, but she says the location held her back.
So opening this bakery on 2nd Street in a small Iowa town felt like a big moment.
"A lot of what I've done has built up to this," she said.
On most days, she's reminded of the simplicity in her mom's kitchen. She tries new recipes based on the seasons and her mood — often the same way customers decide on a treat when they reach the counter.
It's taken decades, but she finally has the bakery she dreamed of. She sees little kids eyeing frosted cookies or a husband taking a dessert to-go for his wife and college students sitting by the window with a muffin.
“I love the smile on people's faces," she said. "And how people just sit with something sweet and read or talk with a friend. If it's good enough, you won't look at your phone.”
So, if you go to Eastern Iowa Baking Co., you won't feel rushed. You can stand at the counter and mull over the pastries — take all the time you need.
"I think we need something to tell us to stop every now and then,” Groh said. "Let the world stop and eat a scone."