Most children mold Play-Doh. The Downing brothers used real dough.
“I’m like 90 percent convinced that my mom used us for child labor,” Ethan Downing, a product of his parents’ kitchen training, joked. “All I remember was my mom baking bread and saying ‘I want you to come over here and knead this.’”
All that training to supply the family with baked goods didn’t just enhance their motor skills; the brothers — Ian, Ethan and Drew Downing — grew to become The Baking Brothers, a local delivery service for homemade, diet-destroying pies, breads, and cookies. They started the business by taking a standard idea and, by virtue of their gender and upbringing (days spent with their father studying the perfect pie crust, rather than the perfect baseball pitch), inadvertently making it special.
And they still bake the way their great-grandparents baked — holding on to a quaint purity in a city brimming with franchises.
“We really try not to take any shortcuts,” says Ian Downing, the brother from the trio who does the most kitchen work. “We basically just do it the same way they did, for better or worse.”
The business idea came about two years ago, after a church bake sale. Ian, now the primary baker in the group, realized they were making money doing something he and his family had been doing for free, and called his brothers about a business idea. They created a menu based on old family recipes or magazine clippings (things like “Great-Grandma Lillian’s Cinnamon Bread” and “Great-Grandma Mary’s Polish Coffee Cake,” and launched a website (www.thebakingbrothers.com). Ian is now the last brother baking — Drew moved to Columbus for a health department job in disaster planning; Ethan is now a documentary filmmaker in New York — and has pursued this flour-caked career diligently, growing a catering business operated out of his home kitchen to being the designated creator of sweets for Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill on Monroe St.
He is zealous about Michael Pollan-like ingredient purity and Julia Child-level authenticity. The brothers’ learned to use vodka in their pie crust — “We always like to use some wildcard element, just something people can’t put their finger on,” Drew says — and they describe rolling the perfect pie crust with words like “torque.”
This intensity of appreciation for things baked at home comes from decades worth of family holidays.
“My dad’s family was a big pie family, almost to the point where they become super judgemental and it became a right of passage You don’t do storebought crust or canned filling,” Ethan said. “It was worse than a cardinal sin — you bought a storebought pie? You’re disowned. It was extreme. I guess it does instill an appreciation for quality baked goods.”
The attitude they’ve developed as a result has won them many fans, especially among Lagrange Street Polish Festival attendees this past summer. “I literally got about two hours of sleep in 72 hours,” Ian says. He sold nearly 500 loaves of Great Grandma Mary’s Polish Coffee Cake, baking like crazy while a high schooler for hire manned the Baking Brothers booth. Thanksgiving and Christmas are similar undertakings.
And of course, being a friend of a Baking Brother has its benefits. “I think it’s awesome, because I get to eat a lot of free food off them,” says Zach Barden, a college friend of Ian’s who, as a healthcare worker, had to add a disclaimer: “But if you do happen to quote me in the article, mention that I eat them in moderation.”
The Baking Brothers pies, cheesecakes, breads and desserts are available at Nick & Jimmy’s Bar & Grill, 4956 Monroe St. They also cater and deliver their products — contact Ian at 419-261-4492 or visit www.thebakingbrothers.com.