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Alum Baking Something Special

Thursday, May 13, 2021


Lia and Max Holter family

Lia Holter has never forgotten her roots.

That’s why her recently opened storefront bakery Made. by Lia is in Old Town Florissant, just minutes from her North County childhood home. It’s also one of the reasons she’s trying to win “The Greatest Baker” contest. If she wins, she plans to use part of the $20,000 prize to start a scholarship for a student in St. Louis Community College at Forest Park’s baking and pastry arts program.

Chef Lia in her bakery holding a tray of baked goods“I’d love to see some money go toward someone in a similar situation as me who has a big dream but maybe doesn’t have the financial means to achieve it,” Holter said.

“The Greatest Baker” contest is all based on who garners the most online votes. A person can vote once per day or contribute at least $10 to the No Kid Hungry Foundation to get one vote for each dollar donated. The Top 15 finishers, the first round of finalists, will be chosen after the 4 p.m. deadline on May 20.

The worldwide competition winner also gets featured in “Bake from Scratch Magazine.”

“Ever since Lia entered the program, she’s been a star,” said Casey Shiller, head of the baking and pastry arts program. “She was one of our top students while here and later returned as an instructor for three sessions. It’s been a pleasure to follow her career, and it’s exciting that she’s getting the recognition she definitely deserves.”

The bakery does it all. It makes wedding cakes, chocolate treats, pastries such as scones, and specializes in gluten-free items. It also has a coffee bar where you can get an espresso or latte.

As steady as business has been, the lean times when the building couldn’t open were challenging for Holter and her employees. Everyone was forced to cut back to keep the business afloat.

Holter also wants to reward her employees, including some STLCC-Forest Park baking and pastry arts alumni, for their loyalty.

“If I were to win the $20,000, I definitely want to give back to our staff,” she said. “They’ve worked so hard, and they put up with a challenging time to help keep things going.”

Holter has always found a way to survive during difficult times.

When she attended college, she simultaneously went to two schools, earning an associate degree at STLCC and a bachelor’s in business administration from Fontbonne University. She also worked two jobs to pay for her education and living expenses.

After graduating from STLCC-Forest Park in December 2011, she began Made. by Lia and operated out of a tiny apartment above her sister’s restaurant “cranking out as many orders as I could.” After winning The Learning Channel’s “Next Great Baker” in 2014, she was given access to a larger kitchen at AB Mauri North America in the Cortex district and was there from 2015-19.

“The baking and pastry arts program was definitely what helped shaped me into the baker I am today,” Holter said. “It also taught me about hard work. It taught me hard work pays off and to chase my dreams to get what I want to accomplish.”

As much as she appreciated the opportunity at AB Mauri, after nearly four years she was ready to have an actual storefront and searched the St. Louis metropolitan area for the best spot. She didn’t feel right about any place she visited and was ready to give up on the idea. The mother of two young children, she wondered if being away from them for hours on end was worth pursuing her dream.

About that time, a building a block away from her home went on the market, and she and her husband Max jumped at the opportunity.

The location allows her to pop home during the day to spend moments with her children or for them to easily visit. It’s also in one of the more vibrant neighborhoods in St. Louis County with several bustling businesses including Hendel’s, a restaurant owned by her sister Christina and brother-in-law Nathan Bennett. Holter’s other two sisters also live nearby.

The Holters bought the building in 2018, completed renovations in 2019 and planned to open in March 2020. That didn’t happen. Like so many small businesses, Made. by Lia had to find other ways to operate its business as the coronavirus pandemic raged through the spring and summer of 2020.

Holter waited as patiently as she could before having the grand opening in August.

“Considering the times, we have boomed,” she said. “We had lines down the street for weeks in the first month of opening. We are still killing it. We are super busy on the weekends. It’s been doing really well. We have people coming all over from St. Louis. We even have people coming from Illinois. Considering the times, we ‘ve really been kicking butt.”

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