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East mom Eileen Usovicz goes to work everyday at 4 a.m. Except for Saturdays — those are the days she goes in at 2 a.m. She enjoys the early start to her day. She likes opening the door to the quiet bakery she and her husband own. Turning on the ovens, planning the day’s baking, making the first pot of coffee — all a part of her daily routine at the Clock Tower Bakery that she has grown to love.
Eileen has always had a dream of opening a bakery. First she worked in a bakery at 14, and after that she was making pizzas for Mandee’s Pizza in Massachusetts. This is when she learned the art of baking that she has grown to love. However, after college she didn’t bake for a long time. Instead she worked as a librarian, as was her husband Lee Jones.
When Lee and Eileen had their only child, senior Vannis Jones, Eileen became a stay-at-home mom. She used her extra free time to start baking again. She started with breads and pizzas, and then taught herself how to make croissants. She figured if she could bake a croissant, she could bake anything.
“I didn’t mean to be a stay-at-home mom,” Eileen said. “But it ended up being a good thing. I did a lot of serious baking at home. Obsessive, driven, passionate baking.”
After Lee retired in 2007, Eileen was finally able to convince him to make her dream of opening their own bakery come true.
“It was something I couldn’t do by myself,” Eileen said. “I really did need Lee for a significant partner to come in and run the business part of the bakery.”
Vannis was a freshman when her parents decided to open the bakery. Although Lee says he was confident going into it, Vannis had her doubts.
“I actually wasn’t sure it was a good idea with the economy at the time,” Vannis said. “But it was nice to have a job as a freshman because no one else did and I got a little money. At first it was really weird, I was home alone until 8 p.m. because they were still figuring out how to close it and all that.”
Deciding to open their own bakery was the easy part. The process of actually opening a bakery was more of a challenge; it ended up taking about six months to find a location, employees and an experienced designer.
From the beginning, Eileen and Lee knew that they wanted their kitchen to have an open design. That way customers could see in and the bakers could see out. They also decided that they would make all of their products fresh each day.
“Anything you bake will have a unique flavor on the day it’s baked,” Lee said. “If you go overnight, even our very best stuff changes in flavor.”
That is why Eileen comes in to work at 4 a.m. She is joined by another baker at 4:15, another at 4:30, until they have a full staff for the day. In the afternoon, workers mix batters and put them in the fridge, that way when Eileen and others come in the morning, they’re actually baking rather than mixing.
“We come in in the morning and we have nothing to sell until we’ve baked it,” Eileen said. “Everything that doesn’t get sold today will go to Hospice House tonight and we’ll start again in the morning. That’s been our point of view since day one and we’ve hung tough with it.”
Lee and Eileen came up with the name Clock Tower Bakery after finding a space for the bakery in Old Overland Park that ended up falling through. They settled on a space a few shops north of the clock tower.
“We stumbled on the cafe right next to the clock tower, and it turned out to be too small for our purposes, ” Lee said. “But we had already honed in on the name Clock Tower Bakery. It seemed rather iconic and certainly would let folks know where we are.”
Currently, Clock Tower Bakery has 15 employees. Eileen is the head baker and Lee is the business manager. Seven of the 15 employees work full-time and are the bakers. The other eight, who work part-time, keep the bakery clean and take care of soups and sandwiches.
Vannis works at her parent’s bakery on Saturdays, their busiest days, ringing people up. From April to November, Old Overland Park holds a Farmer’s Market where Vannis works the bakery’s booth, selling coffee, cinnamon rolls, muffins and breads. Lee said working with his daughter is phenomenal.
“My favorite time in the bakery is Saturday morning with Vannis,” he said. “She and I take care of the counter and we work very well together. We don’t have to talk very much and we know what each other’s going to do. She relates very, very well to the folks.”
Saturday mornings are the days when Eileen gets up extra early; it’s the busiest day of the week. The bakery seats about 30 customers, and that is never enough on Saturday mornings.
“It’s not unusual to have the line go out the front door on Saturday mornings,” Lee said.
Clock Tower offers a wide variety of products. They have “typical bakery treats” such as cupcakes, cakes, muffins, scones, tarts, cinnamon rolls, croissants and bread. They also make specialty pizzas as well as sandwiches and soups. Cinnamon rolls have turned out to be a customer favorite.
Lee’s greatest surprise so far has been the bakery’s wholesale business, which is a sale of their products to other commercial establishments for resale. Clock Tower sells to the Nordstrom Espresso Bar in Oak Park Mall, the Groundhouse Coffee House in Gardiner, the Black Dog Coffee House, Pizza 51 West Coffee House and Twisted Sisters Coffee House.
Business at Clock Tower Bakery has grown steadily ever since it opened. Previous years it grew at a rate of about 20 percent year to year, and this year it’s ahead at about 30 percent.
“Every year has been our best year yet,” Vannis said. “Basically, every month is our best yet.”