Dining With Denise Neil

Flint Hills Market & Bakery will live on; owner finds her successors

The Flint Hills Market & Bakery will live on.

Judy Mills, whose quest to find someone to take over her idyllic Flint Hills business I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, has found some successors. The business, which has been closed since May 1, will reopen on May 30.

“You just don’t know how relieved I am,” Mills said.

After the Wichita Eagle published a story about the uncertain future of the business, which operates on Main Street in Florence, population 425, Mills said she was inundated with phone calls. She heard from about 15 people who expressed serious interest in taking over the business, which has a deli and a market selling groceries, gifts and specialty items.

Just before the story was published, Mills met the Claassen family through her daughter and son-in-law, who employee one of the seven Claassen siblings at her business, Prairie Oaks Designs, near Cedar Point.

They told Mills that the family might be perfect to revive the market and cafe. After meeting multiple times with the family, Mills agreed.

The business will be mostly run by Katie Claassen, 22, and her sister, Kami, 17. Katie has been working at Nothing Bundt Cakes, 2035 N. Rock Road, for a year, and Kami is graduating from high school at Berean Academy in Elbing on Saturday.

The sisters grew up in a a farm about 25 miles from Florence in a family of bakers. In fact, their mother Kris Claassen, is the head cook and baker at Berean Academy. Their whole lives, they said, they’ve made pies, breads and cinnamon rolls, even supplying a restaurant in Potwin with pies for a while.

The family was immediately interested in the market.

“That little town bakery, it just sounds so cool, and it’s just such a cute little place,” Katie said. “I’m excited about it.”

Kris and another Claassen daughter, who is a freshman in high school, will be able to help the girls get the business up and running over the summer. Mills also has agreed to serve as a mentor. The new owners plan to keep the business basically the same at first and take their time deciding what changes or additions to make.

Mills, who owns the Doyle Creek Ranch with her husband, Randy, is 72 and wants to retire.

She opened the bakery and market a year and a half ago in the town’s historic limestone opera house, which she and her husband meticulously renovated over four years. She decided to close the business on May 1 because she lost her main baker, who left to start a Mennonite service mission. But she said she couldn’t stand for the business to remain shuttered.

Mills said her hope is that the Claassen family can turn the business into the Flint Hills destination spot she always envisioned.

“I’m real excited,” she said. “I hope the community really supports them.”

The Claassens will be offering free homemade yeast doughnuts to the first 25 people who visit the business on May 30. Their hours will remain the same as before – 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.