Chef Erin Luttrell recalls tales of lines out the door and around the block at her great-grandparents’ bakery in the 1920s — the inspiration behind her newly opened sweets shop on the historic Independence Square.
“During the grain strike, people couldn’t get flour or bread or products to bake at home for their families, so they were at The Barnett Bakery in Holden, Missouri, with Earl and Pearl,” Luttrell said, a proud grin forming across her face as she recalled stories of the bakery, its more than 20-year run, and the generational impact it left on her family 100 years later.
“My grandmother [Maxine], in her final years with dementia, talked about it constantly. I loved the amount of joy — and the memories — that it brought to her.”
Drawing inspiration from such sweet stories, Luttrell found an unshakeable confidence amid another tough time for Missourians — the COVID-19 pandemic — that empowered her to scale back her work in finance and financial teaching to embark on an entrepreneurial journey of her own. It was, in part, intended to confect similar memories for herself and her family.
She opened Eclairs De La Lune in July in Independence at 205 N. Main St., roughly six blocks from her childhood home.
Wasting no time in her quest to recapture the bygone magic of Barnett Bakery, Luttrell saw the reimagining of its most memorable milestone within hours of her bake shop’s ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening.
“My friend Heather came inside and she showed me a video of a line around the block. We had about 400 people here. A line around the block — and people waited,” she said with astonishment, reflecting on the community welcome for her business in the downtown district.
The event saw everyone from friends and neighbors to distant relatives and the parents of Luttrell’s middle school friends come out in support of her entrepreneurial endeavor — and to taste test her signature eclairs, cream puffs, and other sweet treats that include cookies, macaroons, pies and custom cakes. Freeze dried candies also have become a secondary business operation for Luttrell and her family.
“I knew we’d run low — I didn’t know we would be making cookies at 9 o’clock at night just to feed somebody. … I finally threw down my powdered sugar holder and locked the door like, ‘Mic drop,’ … except it went everywhere,” she laughed.
In the weeks since, business hasn’t slowed down much, Luttrell said, admittedly surprised by how quickly her treats have caught on with customers — despite boasting a healthy following metro-wide from custom baking and catering work prior to the launch of her brick-and-mortar space.
“We run out of food almost every day. That’s been the hardest part for me,” she said.
“But when somebody comes in and buys all of the macarons at 8:45 a.m. and we’re not even open yet, I don’t tell them, ‘No, you have to wait 15 minutes.’ I’m like, ‘Take it. I’ll ring you up right here. Just swipe your card.’”
“I didn’t expect that to happen and I’m loving it. But at the same time … how do I make enough food for everybody?”
Luttrell knows she might never find a solution to such a conundrum, but she’s leaning on her experience as a home baker to help her find balance and joy in the process.
“When COVID hit, I couldn’t teach [finance] anymore. I could, but we were doing it remotely and it was kind of ridiculous. [My five] kids were all at home and I just started baking. It was therapeutic,” she recalled of the months that ultimately led her to open Eclairs De La Lune and lessons she learned about herself amid days of isolation brought on by the era.
“In the middle of the night, I’m like, ‘I can’t sleep. I’m going to make macarons.’ It was cathartic. I’m feeding my family of seven and that’s my love language,” she said.
“The most affectionate thing I think people can do for others is to feed them. Jesus did it.”
For more on the origins of Eclairs De La Lune, listen to the clip below then keep reading.
‘This is what I am called to do’
Giving the same gift of baking to others is top of mind and menu for Luttrell as she settles into life as a business owner. She offers decorating and other confectionery courses in the bakery’s kitchen.
Such opportunities aren’t only a way for Eclairs De La Lune to create value in the community, they’re a way for Luttrell to get to know her neighbors, their needs and wants, and creatively find ways to whisk their wishes into reality.
“There’s always those folks who know what they want and they come in and they say, ‘You don’t have kolachi?’ And I’m like, ‘I will tomorrow,’” she laughed, noting her shop might never sling donuts, but customers are welcome to suggest just about anything else to appear on its evolving menu.
“You do what people want. The kids are at home like, ‘You’re the boss.’ No, no, no, honey. Thousands of people have been through the door already and they are the boss. I have thousands of bosses — and it’s exciting.”
Luttrell isn’t alone in meeting the demands of a hungry customer base. In addition to her children, her husband, and a team of neighbors who eagerly reached out looking for a chance to join the bakeshop’s founding team, a familiar face is lending a flour-dusted hand.
“I feel my grandmother [here,]” Luttrell said, noting a photo of the two hangs on a wall near the bakery counter.
“[I can feel] how she talked about [her parents] bakery and how she felt about it and the things that she liked to eat when she went in there and the things that we would bake together when I was a little girl.”
Want to learn more about Luttrell’s team? Listen below then keep reading.
‘I need a job, and I need a second chance at life’
Help doesn’t stop with the guidance of Luttrell’s grandmother. She also feels the presence of her late father in the space, an unexpected and comforting addition to her entrepreneurial journey.
“I lost both of them around the same time and he was really special. … He’s here every day. And I know that because the people who come in talk about him and they say things like, ‘Your dad would be so proud.’”
Listen to Luttrell tell the story of her dad’s influence below then keep reading.
‘He just had a way of making everybody smile’
A man with an arsenal of stories to tell, an abundance of friends and infectious laughter, Luttrell’s father is perhaps felt most when she’s connecting with her customers, she said.
“He was the man of my life and my best friend. … He never met a stranger. And that’s kind of how I feel here when people walk in and I say, ‘Hi, how are you today?’ I don’t know you, but you’re coming to eat my food,” Luttrell said.
“I think we’re running our business the way that he loved people. … I have this legacy in my past. I want to continue that for my growing family.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.