Cornwall Bakery opened on Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe Park at the end of September — and if that doesn’t sound like much of a news flash, you need to know the back story.
The neighborhood had been waiting for more than a year for a promised bakery to materialize in the high-ceilinged space. The previous occupant, Bona Fide Bakery, had been just days away from debuting in 2013 when the plug was pulled, and the proprietor and the building’s owners suddenly parted company.
The handsome space with the French blue doors and big front roll-up windows stood vacant until Freeman Gunnell III came to the rescue. The 20-year kitchen veteran was well qualified to fire up the huge Pavailler oven to produce an array of crusty European breads. And he not only opened the long-awaited bakery, but he also relocated with his wife and two children to the neighborhood from Royal Oak, where he had been with Holiday Market for 10 years.
Cornwall is not just a name plucked out of the air. It is from Gunnell’s British heritage — one that goes back many generations, he says.
The path to running his own bakery began when he was just 16 and a student at De La Salle High in Warren. He got a job as a dishwasher at Da Edoardo. In his spare moments he enjoyed watching the cooks and soon began helping out, taking over little tasks like chopping parsley, steadily moving up to salads and desserts. When he went to Michigan State University in 1985, he got into the hotel/restaurant management program but after two years transferred to Central Michigan to finish a degree in the business program, always with the idea of owning his own business some day.
While waiting to see if he could get into culinary school, Gunnell got a job at the Rattlesnake Club, where he first got interested in bread making. During that time, he was lucky enough to be accepted into Madeleine Kamman’s School for American Chefs in the Napa Valley because of his work with chef-proprietor Jimmy Schmidt. He recalls Schmidt saying, “You don’t need the CIA. You need Madeleine Kamman.”
It was just a two-week program, but it was intensive, with just him and two other aspiring chefs working directly with the legendary French woman, who had been Schmidt’s mentor. (When Gunnell got married in 1998, Kamman sent him an original, edited copy of her cookbook as a wedding gift.)
He went on to get more formal training at Schoolcraft College where he got a two-year culinary degree that he says “filled in the gaps.” He and his wife moved to Chicago where he honed his skills at the Whole Foods Bake House before returning to Michigan. The past 10 years have been spent baking at Holiday Market, while always hoping to have his own spot. To find a well-equipped bakery that was nearly complete was a dream come true.
The menu includes more than just the crusty loaves of sourdough and multigrain breads displayed in wooden wine racks. He and his crew of eight also produce croissants, tortes, muffins, and pies, and there are always a few decorated cakes in the glassed-in case, and coffee from Mighty Good Coffee in Ann Arbor for those who stop by. He plans to expand the menu to include breakfast and lunch dishes. But the most important thing is the bakery is open!
15215 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-264-1938. Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.