TRAVERSE CITY — Shenne Espinal jockeyed a pitcher of soy milk into position under a steam wand and listened for a subtle change in the hiss to signal the foam’s readiness.
“You’re a natural,” said Jamie Bell, as she showed the resulting creamy froth to students of Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Lobdell’s Teaching Restaurant.
Bell, of Higher Grounds Trading Company, was training the students to make coffee drinks using the restaurant’s new two-head espresso machine.
The drinks will be a staple when the school-year restaurant revamps itself for the summer into Café Lobdell’s, a new bakery café serving coffee, pastries and breads three mornings a week.
The cafe is the culmination of a new one-year baking certificate program that began last fall, said Service Lead Kerry Fulcher. Students will rotate through all café operations — from production to front-of-the-house — to become better-rounded culinarians.
“This brings it all to fruition and helps them understand the operations side of things,” she said.
Besides coffee drinks — made with local Higher Grounds coffee and local Shetler’s milk — customers can order local Light of Day teas and cultured kombucha and “grab-and-go” cookies, pastries and other bakery items for take-out or dine-in. Casual seating will be available at the bar or at one several indoor and outdoor tables overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay.
The cafe is a way of utilizing “the gorgeous space we have” in one of the best seasons, Fulcher said.
“People have been asking for something in the summer but because Lobdell’s has such a unique reputation it’s hard to find something that won’t take away from the restaurant — and hard to find students during the peak season for working,” said Fulcher, who expects large take-out orders. “We have a great following at Lobdell’s. I look forward to seeing some of my regular customers as well as attracting new ones.”
Pastries include tarts, cream cheese-filled Danish, and sweet and savory croissants made with Plugra European-style butter. Other items include scones, granola bars, personalized cakes and six-serving cheesecakes topped with seasonal fruit like cherries or rhubarb-cream cheese compote.
Vegan and gluten-free options likely will be available.
Ben Brown is one of five students who will operate the restaurant under the watchful eyes of Fulcher, chef instructor Becky Tranchell and barista Sarah Bodus, a graduate of the culinary institute.
“These guys are going to run the show,” said Tranchell. “They’ll be producing all the baked goods and keeping an eye on quality, quantity and inventory.
“My hope is to give them real-world experience and confidence, not only of the knowledge and chemistry of recipes, but how to set up operations and systems.”
Brown, 35, enrolled in the baking certificate program after a “very hard left turn” away from his former career as a software engineer.
“Baking is something I’ve been doing all my life,” said Brown, originally from Brighton. “I started doing bread seriously about five years ago. Now bread is my passion.”
Besides pastries, the café will sell four rotating varieties of bread, including Lobdell’s signature multi-grain bread.
“It is what we serve for our lunch but we are constantly asked if we can sell it,” Fulcher said.
For this summer, at least, café hours are 7-11 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays — except for July 4 — at the restaurant on the second floor of NMC’s Great Lakes Campus on E. Front Street.
If it takes off, hours could expand next year.
“We have many ideas of what we could do but we want to take it slow and steady to make sure we get the details right before taking it to the next step,” Fulcher said.