A Flair for Flavors: UWEC grad launches organic baking business
She doesn’t know it, but Leah Pronschinske saved my husband from enduring a full-on Jekyll and Hyde moment during our road trip to Washington State. We were 45 minutes outside of Billings, Montana, when we found ourselves camped on the side of I-90. While Luc patiently worked with roadside assistance, I was losing it. It wasn’t the picturesque countryside that kept my emotions from boiling over. It was Leah Ponchinske’s food blog, The Affogato. I don’t know if it’s because my body is 90 percent coffee; but the moment my eyes fell upon recipes for Hazel Mocha Caffe Breve Scones and Affogato with Homemade Gelato, I felt at ease.
“When I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s really nice to look at other peoples’ stories and hear about the struggles they went through to become successful. It gives me hope and brings me back to my feet.” – Leah Pronschinske, on dealing with the challenges of being an entrepreneur
Pronschinske is no stranger to original plans taking on a different face. When she first started college at UW-Eau Claire, she had aspirations of going pre-med and becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist. After her first semester, she knew that a career in medicine wasn’t for her. She told me that she’d always been fascinated by the science of baking and the art of cooking. This – with inspiration from her mom and Nana – encouraged Leah to become an entrepreneur. “I come from a family of independent and creative women,” she says. “My mom started her own tiling business 11 years ago. My Nana also had her own sewing business, selling gorgeous sewn velvet tree skirts and quilts. Because I have witnessed family members run businesses successfully, I knew I had the ability to start up my own.”
Leah graduated in December and filed for an limited-liability corporation in February to start up her baking business. She found inspiration in making homemade gelato and creating her own variations of an affogato. It’s the very thing that gave her business its name.
What is an affogato, you ask? It’s an Italian after-dinner drink, an absolutely fabulous beverage that consists of a scoop of vanilla gelato in a mug. It is then topped off with a shot (or three if I were making it) of espresso. There’s usually one shot of liqueur (such as amaretto) included as well.
Organic, natural food became Leah’s focus after she had several allergic reactions to processed foods. Leah says she “loves the idea of going back to traditional ways of making baked goods and growing vegetables and fruits with no harmful chemicals.” She is also very glad for the opportunity to support local suppliers. Much of the organic produce and foods she buys are grown or made locally (sometimes within Minnesota).
Leah wants to reach those who are “looking to eat ‘clean’ even when enjoying some sweets. The demand for organic foods is growing very quickly, so people of all ages have an interest in organic foods,” she says.
I was impressed to learn that Leah makes her own natural food coloring, which is created by extracting the natural color from fruits and vegetables. She also makes homemade vanilla and grinds her own powdered sugar. “It’s really hard to find these things in Eau Claire,” she says.
Currently, Leah does all of her baking at the Forage Commercial Kitchen in Banbury Place. Since she’s launched her business, Leah has catered for large-scale weddings, birthday parties, retirement parties, baby showers, bridal showers, graduation parties, and brunches. When I asked her about her future, Leah shared that she would like to open up a farm-to-table organic café where she would offer baked goods, pastries, breads, an array of fresh squeezed juices, and an exceptional smoothie selection.
With a big future ahead, staying motivated is crucial. “I (give) myself ‘me time’ whenever I need it. I don’t want my passion and fascination with baking to get drowned by unnecessary stress,” Leah says. She’s also rejuvenated by others’ success stories. “When I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s really nice to look at other peoples’ stories and hear about the struggles they went through to become successful. It gives me hope and brings me back to my feet.”
I may not be as artful in the kitchen, but I can promise that Leah’s recipes will sneak their way into my home very soon. I believe success will pour over her life abundantly – affogato style.