Bake Lab cooks up high quality pastries, coffee in Urbana


Photo Courtesy of Willa Manuel

Harry Alexander Krigel, general manager of Bake Lab, serves pastries to customers. Bake Lab is located on Lincoln Ave. in Urbana.

By Carolina Garibay, Buzz Editor

On Fifth and Green streets stands a small, quaint coffee shop that offers both a classic coffee menu featuring artisan drinks and a space for quiet studying that University students are always taking advantage of.

The place, of course, is Brew Lab. Harry Alexander Krigel, the store’s general manager, said he found out about Brew Lab the way most people discover their favorite coffee shops.

“I happened to stumble across Brew Lab on Fifth and Green, and I kept on going back,” Krigel said. “I’m like, ‘OK, this coffee is amazing. I love the environment.’ And I saw how things could be improved there.”

Now, Krigel is the general manager not only of Brew Lab but of its sister store Bake Lab, tucked in the lobby of Gather Illinois. Bake Lab officially opened on Aug. 30, and Krigel said the store is the product out of five-star pastry chef Stacy Shi’s dream to own a place like Bake Lab. Tim Chao, owner of Brew Lab and Bake Lab, saw Shi’s dream and decided to make that dream come true as best he could, Krigel said.

“He really wanted to see her dream come to life about, you know, just showcasing these beautiful pastries and combining it with his coffee concepts,” Krigel said.

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Krigel said the teamwork between him, Shi and Chao is what made Bake Lab possible since Krigel was able to take on the responsibility of hiring and training of both stores so Shi and Chao could set up the kitchen and work with Gather.

But all this work paid off. Bake Lab has been received incredibly well by the community, already having a 5-star rating on Google after being open for less than two weeks.

“Our sales at the new location are already matching our other location, and it’s just really taken off,” Krigel said.

What is it about Bake Lab that already has so many customers lining up to check it out? Maybe it’s the store’s prized oatmeal cookie latte or Shi’s matcha red bean cakes.

Or maybe Bake Lab’s appeal is its personable staff, which Krigel said he thinks really sets Bake Lab apart from other bakeries and coffee shops.

“I took my time hiring the right people,” Krigel said. “They have that spark. You want to talk to them, and they want to talk to you, and they’re great listeners.”

Krigel said this is important to him because he doesn’t want customers to feel like the employees don’t want to be there or are simply there to sell products rather than foster an authentic employee-customer experience. He said one of the ways his customers do this is by not relying on a script when speaking to customers.

“They’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, yes, you have to try our oatmeal cookie latte because, you know, like, I’ve got to sell 500 a day,’” Krigel said. “No, it’s because, you know, the oatmeal cookie latte is the best damn drink that you’ve ever had.”

A grouping of baked goods sits on a table inside Bake Lab at 410 N Lincoln Ave in Urbana. (Photo Courtesy of Harry Alexander Krigel)

Krigel also said Bake Lab uses both high quality equipment and ingredients, like a La Marzocco espresso machine and Rishi teas. He says the investment in these types of things leads to high quality beverages for customers.

“It really does separate us because when you go and taste these other beverages at other places, it’s like, it tastes burned or it tastes heavy or maybe not properly steamed,” Krigel said.

But at Bake Lab, customers can expect an experience free of those hiccups since Krigel both has high standards for products and trains the staff carefully so that all drinks are the best they can possibly be.

Though Bake Lab just opened, Krigel said he has some big plans for the store, like potentially hosting brewed coffee workshops where customers can learn how to properly brew coffee or correctly use a French press.

Krigel said bringing the community into Bake Lab and Brew Lab and really connecting with them is important to him. He also said he regularly visits other coffee shops and is good friends with other local coffee business owners.

Krigel also said he hopes to add to the community, too, in whatever way he can.

“I was talking with one of my baristas the other day, where I’m like, ‘OK, well, it’s like, I’m gay,’ and I look at the area, and I’m just like, ‘OK, well, we don’t have bars, like, we don’t have a lot of representation in our neighborhoods,’” Krigel said.

He also said he hopes to host designated nights at the stores for queer folks in the area to show support and let the community know that Bake Lab and Brew Lab are safe spaces for everyone.

But in the meantime, Krigel suggests that visitors take advantage of Bake Lab’s cozy atmosphere, especially the shop’s leather booth seats.

“You have to sit in those leather booth seats,” he said. “It’s so freakin’ comfortable, and plus, it’s beautiful. It looks like West Elm and New York City had a coffee baby.”

Bake Lab is located at 410 N. Lincoln Ave. in Urbana and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

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