By Meredith Wagner | Arts & Life Editor
A staple to the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, Artisan Oven’s pastries and breads taste like home to market-loving Wacoans, especially given their homegrown, small-scale and hands-on approaches to baking.
Often associated with Homestead Heritage, an agrarian Christian community located just fifteen minutes from the heart of Waco, Artisan Oven is actually its own entity. However, the connection between the businesses is strong, both because Artisan Oven provides Homestead with many of the pastries Homestead sells to the public, and because similar values inspire their intentional approaches to producing quality, responsibly-sourced products.
Artisan’s homegrown, familial roots are evident in a single visit, as the booth is manned by three generations of the Cronin family. Husband and wife Dave and Julaine Cronin manage the market alongside their family, including their children, grandchildren and daughter-in-law. The Cronin family’s primary responsibility at Artisan Ovens involves the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.
“We have the privilege of selling,” Juliane Cronin said. “We go [to Artisan Oven] in the morning, and they pretty much have it all prepared. The market is our side of it,” she said.
Lea Cronin, Dave and Juliane Cronin’s daughter-in-law, has been working for Artisan Oven for nearly a year. She said she admires the way Artisan Oven’s owners – Theresa, Terry and Ephriam Glueck – have committed to the art of baking.
“The Gluecks have been bread bakers of every sort for years,” Lea Cronin said. “They teach sourdough classes and bread classes. I went to one of their sourdough classes about ten years ago.”
Juliane Cronin said the products are so well received because of the care and precision applied in the baking process.
“I know the people and how much they really care about it,” Juliane Cronin said.
For example, Juliane Cronin referenced one of their most popular pastries, their signature cinnamon rolls, which are made of flour that is stone-ground at the water-wheel-driven, 1750s timber-framed gristmill at Homestead Heritage.
Lea Cronin said the products are sourced either directly from Homestead’s fields or purchased from a local, organic source.
“We use some of the wheat that is grown out at Homestead, and if it’s not grown there, it’s at least milled at the gristmill,” Lea Cronin said. “Or we try to get as local as possible. We buy organic flour from local stores as well.”
Ultimately, Lea Cronin said Artisan Oven is “just trying to get back to the handmade art — making breads by hand in a smaller kitchen.”
Although Artisan Oven has an expansive kitchen to accommodate for a growing demand for their products, Lea Cronin said it still creates a sense of homeliness.
“It is a commercial kitchen,” Lea Cronin said, “but there’s a lot of love and care that goes into the craft of it. It’s just like your home kitchen — a little bit bigger — but that’s still the feeling you get when you walk in there.”
Lea Cronin said another element that influences the uniqueness of their pastries is the fact that they produce many of the recipes’ core ingredients themselves.
“Artisan makes their own vanilla, and that is part of what they feel like defines the taste of their pastries,” Lea Cronin said. “It’s just beautiful because there’s a lot of personal care and attention.”
Juliane Cronin added that small details like the amount of butter or the freshness of the pastries also factor into their success.
“The Glueks get up so early to bake [everything]. They can get up as early as 4 in the morning,” Juliane Cronin said. “Fresh is the best. And more butter, more better,” she said with a warm smile.
Both Lea and Juliane Cronin said they enjoy the communal aspects of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.
“I love getting to know who’s in the area,” Lea Cronin said. “I love coming together and supporting each other, trying to give back to the land, trying to support family community.”
Juliane Cronin said Artisan Oven’s customer base is devoted and friendly, which makes the market as a whole that much more special to her and her family.
“You meet so many people,” Juliane Cronin said. “We have so many folks that are regulars that come back every Saturday, and you feel like you have a relationship with them. That means a lot to us.”
Juliane referenced one customer in particular who devotedly visits Artisan Oven’s booth each Saturday.
“Her husband cannot make it out here. She faithfully comes every Saturday to get the two desserts that he loves. He likes the cinnamon rolls, and now he likes the croissants filled with vanilla custard,” Juliane Cronin said. “You can tell she loves him so much.”
Artisan’s popularity has allowed it to expand in other directions, and recently create a pizza trailer, which is occasionally present at the market alongside their double-wide booth. The trailer includes a steel fire oven and produces personal-sized sourdough pizzas.
Artisan’s pizza trailer was present at the Texas Food Truck Showdown just a block away from the market Saturday morning, where their Chipotle Chicken Khachapuri, a sourdough, crusty pizza with fajita chicken smothered in a white chipotle sauce, helped them emerge victorious in the “Best International Food” category.
Lea Cronin said Artisan’s pastries are available at different locations in Waco throughout the week. “You can buy most of the bread and pastries on the weekend out at the Homestead market, as well as the farmer’s market,” Lea Cronin said.
Juliane Cronin enthusiastically encouraged Wacoans to “come try it for yourself.”