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Monday, March 2, 2015

Gettin' Foxy in Joplin: Polka Dot Fox Coffee and Micro-Bakery

Last Monday morning, I noticed a friend on Facebook posted a picture of some goodies from somewhere called Polka Dot Fox Coffee & Micro-Bakery. I clicked to see what city she was visiting. I was completely surprised to find that it was Joplin! I had not heard even the tiniest bit of news about this place opening. And that's sort of how Aaron Blaine wanted it to be...

Aaron Blaine is the owner and head chef at the Polka Dot Fox Coffee & Micro-Bakery. He didn't want the pomp and circumstance of a big opening day. Rather than have a huge rush for everyone in town to try his new eatery, Aaron wanted it to be a steady flow of customers that will continue to make return visits. Anytime a new business opens, and there is always the big buildup, rush for everyone to try it. Often, in those situations, some never make a return trip. In Polka Dot Fox's case, Aaron hopes for an organic, steady flow that increases over time as the word spreads. He hasn't advertised at all, other than updates on Social Media. Between the Facebook page and word of mouth, Aaron has been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of repeat customers in his first week of business.

Owner Aaron Blaine helping some late morning customers.

Aaron Blaine is a product of Joplin, enhanced by his travels around the United States and the world. He has lived in such locales as Hawaii, New York, and most recently Austin, Texas. Aaron started his foray into the food world by attending culinary school at College of the Desert in Palm Springs, California and Long Beach City College in Long Beach, California. Since that time, Aaron has spent over 15 years in the food business in such roles as cooking on hot lines, working in pizza places, as a restaurant consultant, and even operating some restaurant pop-ups.

Aaron came back to Joplin in January of 2014 in order to help oversee the renovation of his parents' house. Since it was a more extended stay, he had the opportunity to see how much Joplin had changed since he moved away, and witnessed the growth of the downtown area and the evolving restaurant scene. He felt Joplin calling him back home. So, he decided to return permanently.

The inception of Polka Dot Fox has been a family affair. Aaron knows a lot about family, as he is the third of eight kids! Since Fall, last year, he has been working with his mother Michelle to incorporate some of her recipes, and develop new ones, in order to open his own bakery. With the help of her, his stepfather Andy, and sister Whitney, he was able to open for business last Monday. He even got some volunteer help from his seven year old sister, Lyrk, when she ran into the room one day and blurted out that the new place should be called "Polka Dot Fox."

I had the opportunity to sit down with Aaron on Friday morning and discuss his inspiration behind the new bakery.

I asked Aaron why, for his first business, he decided to open a bakery. He explained that in culinary school, one must choose the path of the pastry chef or lean more to the savory side as a chef de cuisine. Aaron saw how student after student chose pastry. He decided there must be something about the art of pastry that drew in so many people; it was both the creative and experimental side of baking. Eventually, this lured him the same way. After all, baking has been a lifelong hobby, recalling his earliest memory from age five of baking a lemon cake with his mother. 

The Blaine family is no stranger to creativity. With a mother who is a food writer, a celebrity blogger brother in Hollywood, and a sister that designs and sews clothing, Aaron has been immersed in individuality and urged to follow his passion and be open to his imagination all his life. With a hobbies like being an avid BMXer and collecting some impressive art on his skin, you get the feel that Aaron is indeed a free soul.

Then, there is the scientific side of baking; those recipes that cannot be modified on a whim. There are specific chemical and physical reactions that ingredients undergo that lead to specific types of baked goods. It can mean the difference between a muffin and a cupcake, a scone and a Danish. Aaron loves the study of these reactions.

It all added up in his mind that he needed to open a bakery -- but not just any bakery. You won't find donuts, crullers or your run of the mill bear claw in Polka Dot Fox. In fact, you may not find the same pastry in the shop from one day to the next.

A Reuben Fox Tot filled with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss and secret ingredients!

Aaron embraces the idea of the "experimental kitchen", in which one can create and modify, at will. Another pro of being a free spirit, he hates monotony, the boring approach found at most places. You won't catch anyone at Polka Dot Fox waking up every morning saying "Time to make the donuts..."

In fact, this little bakery has a daily rotating menu posted around 10pm nightly. It is ever changing, but has some general categories to it: muffins, Fox Tots, cakes, etc. Oh, and those Fox Tots... they are a creation of Polka Dot Fox in which there is basically some type of (usually) savory filling encased in baked hashbrowns. It's like a hand-held tater tot of awesome! (I have personally tried the Reuben on a couple of occasions!) But within the guidelines of this menu, he will vary the offerings. You can also rest assured that Aaron will use local and organic ingredients when possible. He also offers gluten free and vegan options, on a daily basis. You have to keep an eye on their Facebook page, because you never know when he will put a test batch of some goodies in the display case.

The other facet of the Polka Dot Fox is their coffee! Aaron has a menu complete with numerous hot and iced versions of espresso drinks, pour over coffee offerings, and some tea options, including an amazing Indian spiced Chai latte. Good coffee is a passion, and you can count on getting the best cup possible. Polka Dot Fox currently offers locally roasted Flying Crow coffee, but are also on the lookout for other local and region guest coffees. If you are unfamiliar with what "pour over" or "hand drip" coffee is, here's your quick and dirty primer:

 It is an old fashioned method of brewing where freshly ground coffee is placed in a pre-moistened coffee filter fitted into a ceramic or glass (prevents off flavors from plastic coffee filter baskets) pour over device. Sometimes it can just look like a fancy funnel. Heated water (not boiling! Don't get me started on overheated brewing water *cough cough* Starbucks *cough cough*) is then poured over the ground coffee slowly and allowed to drip through to the cup or pot below. With this method, the coffee maker is able to control the flow of the water and saturation of the coffee grounds. It gives control of the finer details to the maker, thus creating the best cup of coffee for the customer. Polka Dot Fox offers their pour overs in several different roasts.

The setup for the pour over style of making coffee.
Aaron Blaine has very reasonable expectations for Polka Dot Fox: he wants to build a steady, faithful customer base. He doesn't want his shop to be just another fad or niche market, he just wants to be able to experiment and make people happy. Simply put, Aaron says...
"I just want to make good food, make good coffee, and let Joplin accept it."
Polka Dot Fox Coffee & Micro-Bakery is located at 1303 West 7th Street in Joplin, Missouri. You can reach them at (417) 553-4623, but it's always better to visit in person. Their hours are:
Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 11:30am and from 4:00pm to 10:00pm
Saturday from 8:00am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 10:00pm
Sunday from 9:00am to 1:00pm

Keep up with the Foxy people on their Facebook page here.

You can also check out their page on Urbanspoon by clicking this banner:
Polka Dot Fox Coffee and Micro-Bakery on Urbanspoon

When you stop in to try them out, let them know you read up on them on Frank About Food!

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