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Nikki LaTray closed her restaurant two hours ago, but she sees a familiar message pop up on her Facebook page. 

Someone wants to order a few pizzas for an impromptu party. Another asks about when an order of strawberry tarts might be ready the next morning. 

Sometimes, LaTray sends a quick, "Sorry, I'm about to go to sleep," message.

But most of the time, if you catch her in the right mood, she'll head down the stairs of her apartment and get to cooking in her homemade style — "with lots of care and love." 

"I just can't turn it off," she said. "So if I think I'm able to fill an order like that, I usually do."

This is what happens when you live right above your business, said LaTray, who owns East Side Bakery and Pizza on Harrison Street in Davenport.

"It's also what happens when it's just like grandma's kitchen," she said. "We're almost never really closed."

Officially, the one-woman operation is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays — but take those hours as a suggestion. 

Give her a call, and LaTray would make you a pizza with just about anything on it that she has in stock. If she doesn't usually bake your favorite treat (aside from pastries, tarts, cookies and cakes), just ask.

In April, some students at Davenport Central High School requested fruit pizzas — now, it's the Tuesday morning special. Give her a day's notice, and she'll set up a cake-making class for you or prepare a pan of lasagna for dinner. Actually, she probably would make anything you want for dinner, as long as it's in her cookbook.

"When you're the owner and the only employee, you can personalize it like it's your own," LaTray said. "It's really just me." 

And that’s how LaTray likes it. She has three young grandchildren who frequently visit, but she jokes that her space is "everybody's grandma's kitchen."

"There's something about walking in and immediately feeling like it's home," she said. "You feel like you can stay forever or just grab and go."

In the morning, she turns her Pandora station on — usually The Rolling Stones — and starts baking and filling the day's orders.

As a self-described loner, she cherishes these hours before the doors opens.

But she also looks forward to the customers, for people to talk to. 

"Sometimes, you get into the deepest conversations with strangers because they walked in here," she said. "An hour goes by, and you don't even realize."

LaTray's life is certainly filled with deep-conversation-worthy events. 

Originally from Missoula, Montana, the 54-year-old started her career doing "men's work" — from working at a paper mill to landscaping to a job with a railroad company. 

"There were times I lost my job, and I was terrified because I didn't have any marketable skills," she said. "I didn't have the traditional schooling and all that."

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At 32, with two young sons, she found herself in an abusive marriage and living in a women's shelter. She made her kids pizzas, sprinkle-topped cakes and sugar cookies to cheer them up.

Even when LaTray found a way out — moving to the Quad-Cities to work for a railroad company — her plans took a turn when she lost that job. 

"I was depressed, and I was tired of the corporate thing of being so dependent," she said. "I never considered owning my business. I didn't think that was possible."

And then, in an "epiphany moment," she signed a lease for property on East 12th Street in Davenport, and put every cent she had into a bakery, which opened in 2006 and moved to Harrison Street in 2014. 

"I have been through a lot in my life, and I still will go through a lot," LaTray said. "All I can think is that it led me here. Sitting around moping isn't going to do anything." 

Now, even when last-minute orders come in, she's the happiest she's ever been.

"I want to keep doing this until I can't possibly anymore," she said. "If I have to choose between working hard and working for someone else, I'll take the long hours." 

And she'll do it her own way. 

"I don't want this to be trendy or like a cookie-cutter place, because that's not me," she said. "It's not fancy, but neither am I.

"I'm not doing it to get rich doing this. I just want to pay my bills, and maybe have some money to go to a movie once in a while."


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).