Alex Feick remembers the exact moment she realized that she needed to open a gluten-free, vegan bakery — and it has nothing to do with any dietary restrictions of her own.
“I met this woman through a moms group I belonged to, and she was telling me about her son who was born with celiac disease and a severe nut and egg allergy,” Feick recalls. He was getting ready to turn five years old and had never had a birthday cake. It just got to my heart — bringing up kids is the quickest way to appeal to me. I started tweaking my recipes and made a birthday cake for him, and when I brought it to his party, all of the other moms started asking for stuff. I figured there was enough of a demand for this to go over well.”
Feick, who recently opened a brick-and-mortar location of her year-old brand, Prioritized Pastries (4904 Devonshire Avenue, 314-858-0333)
, understands that people do a double-take when they learn she does not eat a gluten-free or vegan diet herself. Considering that her bakery caters to people looking for these types of baked goods, it’s a natural assumption.
However, as Feick explains, the idea to open Prioritized Pastries actually came from her lifelong passion for the restaurant business. She was a child when her mom moonlighted at a café on Main Street in St. Charles, and she would bring Feick to work with her on the weekends. By the time she was eight years old, Feick was bussing tables, a gig that earned her a little money over the course of two summers. The impression it left on her would last much longer.
“It made such an imprint on me,” Feick says. “I remember the hustle and bustle, the kitchen yelling at the front-of-house, the front-of-house yelling at the kitchen. I loved it and got enthralled with the industry at that point.”
At fifteen, she got her first “real” job in the restaurant business and never looked back. Although she alternated between cooking gigs and waiting tables, it was clear to both her and her employers that she was better suited for the kitchen, an assessment that was made clear to her when she was a server at Soulard Coffee Garden. “The owners flat-out told me I wasn’t good at this,” Feick laughs.
Feick felt confident she could excel in the kitchen, and one of her Soulard Coffee Garden colleagues agreed. He was working a second job at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups and was looking for some additional help. Feick accepted the job offer, and before she knew it, she was creating nightly specials and begging to do the restaurant’s desserts.
At the same time, Feick was attending culinary school, where she further realized that pastry was her path in the kitchen. Whether she was baking on her days off or for her coworkers, Feick was always making desserts and pastries to make herself and others feel better.
Because her opportunities to bake were few and far between at BB’s, Feick left the club to work at Pie Oh My! in Maplewood and the Mud House on Cherokee where she further developed her pastry craft. After that, she landed at Niche, a gig she admits she applied for out of arrogance.
“I had this instructor in culinary school who pushed me and asked me where I wanted to work,” Feick recalls. “Obviously, I wanted to work at the best place I could think of, so I said Niche. He told me to apply there, I think to knock me down a bit, but I ended up getting the job.”
At Niche, Feick was pushed well beyond anything she’d experienced before, and though it wasn’t always easy, she relished the opportunity to learn from the restaurant’s talented pastry team. When the chance to run the pastry program at the Libertine came up, she decided to go for it, seeing it as a great next step for her career.
It was indeed a great advancement, and at the same time bittersweet. With her desserts catching some buzz, Feick was asked to be featured in an article about restaurants that “prioritized their pastries” for a local publication. She was interviewed, did the photo shoot and told family and friends the date her feature was going to be published. A week before it was set to come out, she got laid off.
“I was in total shock and didn’t see it coming,” Feick recalls. “I assumed I was safe. Then, to add salt to the wound, the publication called me to tell me they were pulling the article because I was no longer a prioritized pastry chef.”
The next day, she launched a Facebook page for her business and named it Prioritized Pastries.
“People think I named it that because I prioritize vegan or gluten-free baking needs,” Feick laughs. “It’s spite. I did it totally out of spite and anger.”
The setback proved to be a launchpad for her business. Feick’s friends at Pie Oh My! let her use their kitchen as a baking space after they closed, and she got to work making her signature baked goods for the farmers’ market. Originally, she would bring a case of regular baked goods and a case of gluten-free and vegan ones. The latter proved to be the first to sell out every week.
Building on the success of her products and the demand for gluten-free and vegan baked goods, Feick went all in on the concept. She opened her first brick-and-mortar space, not simply because it is a place of her own, but because it allows her to finally get some rest.
“The first two years of the business, I was going into Pie Oh My! in the middle of the night to work, coming home in the morning so my husband could go to work and then spending the day taking care of my daughter,” Feick explains. “Now that I have this place, I can sleep like a normal person … someday!”
Feick took a break from prioritizing her pastries to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, her Dr. Pepper habit and why inclusive cooking is critical in the industry.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I’m not gluten free! I don’t have allergies or aversions, and neither does my kid. Everyone assumes I do because of my style of baking, but the truth is, I’m just a baker who wants everyone to be able to eat a cupcake once in a while!
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Coffee! Before life begins, coffee must be made and consumed.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Definitely the power to control time. There’s never enough, and I find myself wishing at least twelve times a day that I could stop time and get more done.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
There are so many positive things happening in our food scene right now. So many young chefs are killing it, and I think the greatest thing we have going for us is an openness and welcoming attitude toward anyone willing to try something new.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
More all-inclusive baking and cooking. I love good comfort food as much as the next Midwesterner, but as food allergies and lifestyle changes are becoming more mainstream, I’d like to see more people trying to merge the two. Just because people have food aversions doesn’t mean they don’t still want to enjoy a meal with all the bells and whistles.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Oh lord, there are too many to mention! Kaylen Wissinger at Whisk has definitely been a huge inspiration of mine, and I will always look up to Sarah Osborn-Blue from Niche Food Group. I think I was too intimidated by her when I was working under her, but there are so many things I picked up watching her and learning from her that are implemented daily in my kitchen that have made me better. And of course, Nathaniel Reid for his technical skill and precision. I mean, come on, he’s just brilliant!
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
I’d say Nick Bognar, but the world seems to have caught on to that one already. In the pastry world, I’d look out for Abby Benz at Spoil Me Sweetly out of the Bakers Hub. She is a true artist with fondant and a piping bag.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Salt. I can be salty af sometimes, but I can also be the thing that enhances the sweetness in something. And while you may not notice it if it’s there, you always notice if it’s missing!
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
I ask myself this question all the time. I still haven’t figured it out yet. That’s why I’m still here!
Name an ingredient never allowed in your bakery.
This is an easy one — gluten! Really though, anything overly processed or fake. Or anything that we can just make ourselves.
What is your after-work hangout?
Home! Not much beats hanging out with my kid while wearing comfy clothes and watching Moana
on repeat these days.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Ugh — soda. I’ve kicked so many bad habits, but god help me, I just can’t give up my Dr. Pepper!
What would be your last meal on Earth?
Can you make a meal out of cake? Because definitely cake. Chocolate cake. With vegan chocolate ice cream. But then again, I always think the answer is cake.
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