Amazing Grace bakery and café remembers its owner

By Joli Doornink

If muffins could talk, what would they say? If they came from the basement of the Dewitt-Seitz building, they might just talk about changing the world.

Painted on the wall above the racks of fresh bread loaves in the Amazing Grace Bakery & Café, the phrase “Changing the world, one muffin at a time” becomes a part of the unique decoration. Before being brushed on the wall, though, the slogan was part of a vision inside Duaine “Chip” Stewart’s head: a vision that soon became a reality.

His slogans are just a part of what makes Amazing Grace what it is today.

According to an article written by Stewart, Amazing Grace Bakery & Café opened in 1995. The first customer bought a bag of cinnamon rolls and muffins.

Ronnie Eastling, the general manager and buyer at Amazing Grace, learned a lot about the bakery’s past by working side by side with Stewart. “When he and (co-founder) Doug decided to open the business, neither one of them knew how to bake,” she said. According to an article she wrote, titled “Ode to Chip,” he also didn’t even like coffee.

Amazing Grace is a fairly recent addition to the Dewitt-Seitz building. According to the Duluth News Tribune, the Dewitt-Seitz building opened in 1905. Its main purpose at that time was to manufacture and sell mattresses and box springs, as well as other furniture.

After settling in the old building, Amazing Grace began to develop its own unique personality. According to Eastling’s article, “Amazing Grace was the first coffee shop/music venue in Duluth.”

The bakery developed according to Stewart’s vision. “He opened it with it being a vision of a sort of community center, where people could come and have good food and listen to good music,” Eastling said.

She began working at Amazing Grace in July of 2000. When she started, Stewart didn’t have much of a management structure. “When I started here, we didn’t even have a written application,” she said. “Chip would just hand you a piece of paper and say, ‘Write down what you think I should know about you.’”

“Be kind, be brave, don’t eat bad bread.” Not only are Stewart’s slogans clever advertising, but this one also holds a snippet of life advice, which he used in hiring people. He was a very kind and forgiving employer.

“He would hire people that maybe couldn’t get a job somewhere else,” Eastling said. In her article she wrote, “I believe that Chip made it his mission in life to help people along their path when he could.”

Stewart married current owner Marcie Stoyke in 2003. According to Eastling, Stewart was diagnosed with cancer shortly after they married. That’s when Stoyke started working at Amazing Grace.

The couple experienced their share of setbacks. “Their house caught on fire five days after he was diagnosed with cancer,” Eastling said. That’s when Stoyke asked Eastling to step up and work with her. “He asked me to give her three months, and that was seven years ago,” Eastling said about the business with Stoyke. “We’ve been running it together ever since.”

In October 2009, Stewart lost his 6-year battle with cancer at age 61.

According to Eastling, the bakery still runs on Stewart’s original ideals, values and vision. Amazing Grace stayed open the day after he died because “it’s what Chip would have done,” Eastling said.

There was an outpouring of support from the community. In Eastling’s article, published in the December 2009 Amazing Grace newsletter, she wrote, “We thank you for all your support and encouragement in this difficult transition…and if you are missing Chip, come on in and have a seat. You’ll find him here.”

Those who work at Amazing Grace remember Stewart’s traditions. Eastling said that he was able to perform marriage ceremonies. So, on Valentine’s Day, he had a deal where “if you purchase a whole sandwich, he would marry you for free,” Eastling said. “It would actually happen.”

As Stewart’s traditions live on, so do his slogans. Eastling remembers a particularly clever one: “Buy our bread, we knead the dough.”

“That was Chip,” she said. “He was a clever, clever personality.”

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