St. Joseph’s Table Bakery works to embody the spirit of generosity that inspired its name
by Caitlin Thornbrugh
LENEXA — Nestled in an ordinary-looking shopping center on the northwest corner of 87th and Quivira here, the newly opened St. Joseph’s Table Bakery is reaching out to the community — one cheesecake at a time.
Inside the small storefront, behind the glass display case, pastry boxes and white doilies wait to be filled with sweets.
An 80-quart mixer spins mountains of dough. Bright sprinkles line a decorating station and metal baking racks are ready for trays of cookies.
Since September, owner Stephanie Bicknell opens the day by warming the ovens, proofing dough, and setting out the correct number of eggs to lower to room temperature. When customers arrive, they are greeted with the familiar smell of cinnamon and warm sugar and the unbroken hum of an oven.
Stephanie has been married to her husband Joe Bicknell, a self-taught baker, for 22 years. He acts as a supporting partner, cheesecake expert, mechanic, and janitor for the new business.
It all started with a distinct craving.
“Steph likes cheesecakes. And you can’t find a good cheesecake,” said Joe. “They’re just not available.”
He started baking them for his wife and, when she had extra, she took them to her co-workers.
It didn’t take long before people were requesting them.
“It got to the point we were making so many of these cheesecakes we had to stop or make it a business,” said Joe.
Stephanie said her original concept was to create a neighborhood bakery.
“It’s kind of falling into place the way I wanted it to be,” she said. “The people coming in are the people in the community.”
Their biggest surprise so far is the fact that the bakery already has some loyal, returning customers after only being open for a couple months.
“They come in, I learn who they are, get their names, and they start feeling familiar with the bakery,” said Stephanie.
She remembers the names of the grandmother and grandchildren who come in every week en route to their music lessons, and the gentleman who comes in every week “like clockwork” for his favorite pastry.
“It makes me feel good talking to them, knowing who they are and their story,” said Stephanie. “The neighborhood bakery is kind of the way I imagined it to be.”
While the Bicknells are residents of Shawnee, they are embracing their Lenexa location and have already baked spinach balls for the annual Spinach Festival and donated corn bread to the Chili Challenge (a recipe it took Joe 40 years to find).
This spirit of generosity is at the heart of their business’ unique name — St. Joseph’s Table Bakery. The term comes from a tradition of giving that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, when a fear of drought and subsequent famine caused Sicilians to pray to St. Joseph for rain. When the rains came, his feast day, celebrated on March 19, became a day for the wealthy to lay on a lavish spread and invite the less fortunate in.
The feast day is still observed today by Italian immigrant communities — as well as some Catholic parishes — with community “tables” to honor this tradition.
“The minute she came up with the identity, everything else fit in,” said Joe. First, the Bicknells are members of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. Second, Joe is not only his first name, but St. Joseph’s feast day is also his birthday.
He does admit it gets kind of awkward when he’s answering the phone, however. Customers calling in orders get to hear him respond, “St. Joseph’s Table Bakery, this is Joe!”
The Bicknells are also currently saving money for a St. Joseph statue to put in the front of the store.
“My dream would be to get one of the Italian ones,” said Stephanie.
She has been able to share the history of the name with people who come into the store — almost everyone asks during their first visit. This also gives her the opportunity to share how the bakery is sponsoring a different local charity each month, with a donation box and message in the front of the store.
People can give suggestions and vote for the charity they like on the bakery’s Facebook page. The three charities for the month of December are Lakemary Center in Paola, a facility for the developmentally challenged; Shalom House, a homeless shelter for men run by Catholic Charities in Kansas City, Kansas; and First Downs for Down Syndrome.
“The thing is she (Stephanie) likes to give back,” said Joe. “She wanted something that kind of went with that theme of charity and the Catholic faith.”
With this in mind, the couple also donates the bakery seconds they do not sell to charitable organizations like Bessie’s House in Kansas City, Missouri, and Safehome, which serves the entire Kansas City metro area.
While the Bicknells believe in giving back, they also believe in the art of baking with the best ingredients.
For their cheesecakes, that means the cream cheese with the highest fat content.
According to Joe, “That’s flavor. You’ve got to use real eggs and real heavy cream.”
But he changes things up by adding different ingredients like chocolate, pumpkin, and even Kahlua, to a master cheesecake recipe.
“Our basic New Yorker plain, weighs over six pounds,” he said.
Their cheesecakes can take about 30 minutes to prepare and four hours to bake.
“You’ve got to know how to cook it. [On] a cold, dry day they cook differently than a warm, hot day,” said Joe.
And beyond cheesecake, the bakery features specialties like giant cinnamon rolls the size of pizzas and a flat pie crust covered in cinnamon and sugar, called an Elephant’s Ear.
Even Stephanie’s grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe makes an appearance.
As the business continues to grow, the Bicknells hope to keep experimenting and trying new recipes to add to the bakery’s menu.
“We’re trying to do things no one else is doing,” said Stephanie.
12126 W. 87th St., Lenexa
For large orders, give at least two days notice.