Local bakery brings nostalgia with neighborhood corner store


Brian Bauer

The Hopscotch Bakery + Market. Owner Kaya Tate recently opened a new John Street location in Champaign.

By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

A location surrounded by neighborhood homes and across the street from a local elementary school seems like the least likely place to find a bakery, but Kaya Tate has never wanted her business to fit in a box.

“I feel like that’s kind of more our style; I don’t like new buildings, I think they have no personality,” Tate said. “I loved the location of this building. I’m not really into strip malls.”

After selling her baked goods and cakes at farmers markets, art shows and various festivals for two years, Tate was able to build up the clientele and capital to take her business to the next level and open her own store.

After working for a year on redoing the interior of the neighborhood building Tate leased, the Hopscotch Bakery and Market on John Street has been open for about a month.

“It’s funny because I used to drive by and think that someone needs to do something with this building because it’s so cute, and then I decided, alright I’ll just do it,” Tate said.

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Tate said she drew some inspiration for the building’s location and connection to the people in the neighborhood from the corner market she grew up near. By carrying products for people living nearby such as milk, eggs and butter, Tate said Hopscotch Bakery tries to bring back the nostalgia of having a neighborhood corner store in the area.

“We even sold a lemon out of our fridge to some lady because she was making a pie and needed one,” Tate said. “We try to actually listen to what people want, because that’s the goal.”

The location of the bakery allows for a convenient stop for people from the surrounding neighborhood or for parents and kids from the local school to satisfy their sweet tooth. Tate said she wants people to feel comfortable in her bakery and she takes pride in seeing customers come in regularly.

While Tate does a lot of the work herself, she has had help over the years from those who are now employees in the new bakery.

Caroline Smith has worked with Tate for two years, and said that her job has come full circle.

“When I first met Kaya we were working together over Christmas,” Smith said. “She said she wanted me in her store to make coffee. Now, two years later, I’m here.”

Other than coffee and cakes, Hopscotch Bakery offers a variety of baked goods. Tate said she never wants her business to be categorized as a “cupcake shop” because that is not what she’s ever envisioned for it.

Teresa Beard has worked alongside Tate for a year and a half as a baker. She said she enjoys learning new things from Tate, who also does the baking for Hopscotch. For her, working on creating new flavors is something she loves best about the job.

Photo Courtesy of Hopscotch Bakery + Market
Hopscotch Bakery + Market’s blackberry sunshine coffee cake. It consists of cream coffee cake topped with blackberries.

“Hopscotch doesn’t just make what everyone else makes,” Beard wrote in an email. “There is usually a twist or something surprising about each item, and they all look amazing.”

The unique flavors and surprising elements of the pastries are not the only things that set Hopscotch apart from other bakeries. The ingredients Hopscotch uses and Tate’s overall professional history as a pastry chef contribute to the unique atmosphere of the bakery.

“I mostly worked in restaurants doing more high-end, fine dining,” Tate said. “I think people put a lot of thought into that but people don’t put as much thought into, like, a cinnamon roll. So I kinda wanted to take that aspect and flip it.”

Tate has devoted herself to creating a unique and local brand for Hopscotch, featuring local ingredients and classic cake designs that she said she feels people have grown away from. Tate said she looks for new things to offer her Hopscotch customers so everyone feels happy and comfortable in the bakery.

Not only are Hopscotch’s ingredients local, but the bakery’s flowers and other decorations also come from around town. Tate’s friends supply her with flowers and vegetables, and local farms supply various fruits and other ingredients.

“Most places now, and not just here in town, but in general, use stuff from the box,” Tate said. “It’s bizarre; it makes no sense. We don’t take a lot of shortcuts.”

Hopscotch’s devotion to making things from scratch means if customers want a custom designed cake they need to order at least two days in advance because everything is made fresh. Customers who are not selective about their cake are more than welcome to stop into the bakery and buy one in the case that Hopscotch workers are constantly baking and decorating.

Another thing that Tate said sets Hopscotch apart from some other bakeries or cake shops is it does not produce any type of character cake or any decoration that would require the use of fondant.

“This isn’t Cake Boss,” Tate said. “Those shows don’t come with price tags and I think when people want cakes like that they lose a little bit of reality.”

Photo Courtesy of Hopscoth Bakery + Market
Hopstoch Bakery + Market’s blackberry pie cupcakes made with vanilla butter milk cake with blackberry compote and almond meringue.

All of Hopscotch’s cakes follow traditional patterns and are decorated with buttercream frosting.

The ability to cater to all kinds of demands from the neighborhood such as meetings or even providing an ideal location for a school drop off coffee date has allowed Hopscotch to develop deeper relationships with the people living nearby. It brings back the corner market feel Tate drew on from her own childhood for inspiration.

The unique feel of Hopscotch has not always come easily. Tate said there have been difficulties in the past month because it is a whole new job for everyone involved. Despite this, Tate said she is hopeful and excited for Hopscotch’s future and is looking forward to the holiday season.

“Nothing’s ever going to be perfect, and we don’t want to be perfect,” Tate said. “Hopscotch shouldn’t fit in any box, unless it’s a bakery box.”

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