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The Black Cat Bakery, a favorite seasonal visitor to Missoula’s Farmers Market, has found a permanent spot to stay and bake all year.

After 13 years of just Saturdays, bakery owners Jack and Christy Wich have moved their in-home bakery to a shop of its very own at 2000 W. Broadway, next door to Noodle Express.

“It’s a huge step for us to go from the market to a shop that’s open five days a week,” Christy said. “But our customers have asked for this and it’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

“We had gotten to the point where we had grown so much and were running out of room in our house,” she said. “It was getting to be ridiculous and it was either take the leap and go retail or discontinue what we were doing.”

Quitting altogether just wasn’t a realistic – or smart – option. Baking is Jack’s passion, and he learned his culinary skills at some of the most prestigious schools in the world.

Formally trained at Johnson & Wales University’s culinary arts program, L’Academie de Cuisine and the Notter School of Pastry Arts, Jack apprenticed with famed chef Wolfgang Grederick and former White House Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. Before moving his family back to Montana to be closer to Christy’s parents, Jack was the executive pastry chef for the luxurious Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

“This is pretty exciting for all of us who work here,” said Laura Opsommer, one of the Black Cat’s assistant pastry chefs. “It’s exciting to be part of something that is truly special and provides such a variety of exceptional desserts and pastries that you can’t find anywhere else in Missoula – or Montana.”

While the Black Cat’s Saturday bakery stand is famous for its cinnamon buns made from croissant dough, butter-rich huckleberry scones and foccacia-inspired cheese and vegetable specialty breads, Jack’s elevated pastry skills are on full display at the new shop.

Along with all the favorite market items, customers will find a rich selection of European-inspired pastries and some butter-cream American favorites, including gorgeously layered opera cakes, cannoli with chocolate chips, chocolate mousse cake, whoopee pies and colorful fruit tarts.

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Such scrumptious pleasures are also incredibly satisfying and rewarding to make, said Matt Ball, another assistant pastry chef at the Black Cat.

“We are learning so much from Jack,” Ball said. “He’s a great teacher and in Missoula you don’t have an opportunity to work alongside and learn from someone with his kind of experience and resume.

“Jack has been do this for so long – producing these beautiful things – it’s a wonderful opportunity for us who work here,” Opsommer said. “There’s so much potential for the product he is producing and that’s so exciting.

“The sky’s the limit.”

Because the bakery business is an exacting one that requires artistic perfection, patience and long hours, the Wiches have carefully chosen their small group of employees and run the shop like a family.

Jonah Elliott has been the Black Cat’s go-to person for nearly five years, helping out in every part of the business. The Wiches’ daughter, Jackie, 10, is learning the ropes at the cash register and explaining the inventory to customers and 15-year-old Genna Lenchuk has found an exciting job that has kept him busy for the past two years in and around his school schedule.

The bakery, he said, allows him many benefits.

“The food is amazing,” Lenchuk said, “and the work is really fast-paced, which I like.”

Although the Black Cat has a new home, it won’t abandon its Saturday market spot, in the sun near the giant red X’s.

It will be there every Saturday, except for Aug. 14, and it can always be found Tuesday through Saturday out on West Broadway in its shiny new digs.

“We wanted this place to have a clean, big-city look and for it to look like a real pastry shop,” Christy said. “We wanted this to be something people would normally find in places like Seattle and San Francisco.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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