When Jason Kindle opened a sports bar, he never expected it to become a bakery. While you might stroll into Bridge City Taproom expecting crinkled PBRs, frothy IPAs and disgruntled Timbers fans you’ll find cozy enclaves of regulars digging through pudding cakes, ice cream pies modeled after candy bars and cinnamon- and snickerdoodle-flavored ice cream cakes.
Since opening in 2014, Bridge City Taproom has sharply deviated from the legacy it inherited from The Refectory, the restaurant owners Jason and wife Stephanie Kindle worked at for 19 and 15 years, respectively. The Refectory, now a Dollar Tree in San Rafael Shopping Center, is where the two met. It’s the source of the Kindle family, and its customer base is family.
“We feel we have a good idea of what the neighborhood wants, what they need and what they can afford,” says Jason Kindle. “We pride ourselves on being affordable but not being boring. The neighborhood is hardworking, blue collar people. We do things that are appetizing and gourmet without the $20 to $30 gourmet fee—and our specials exploded.”
The “specials” Kindle speaks of are Bridge City’s cornucopia of desserts, namely cakes and ice cream cakes. They have formed an integral part of Bridge City’s culture and have wooed a sizable fan base. Many of Kindle’s customers would be surprised to learn that when he opened Bridge City, he had only had experience successfully baking a carrot cake, thanks to a recipe he inherited from a friend.
“When we sat down and devised our menu, they all included two or three desserts. Our menu is diverse, but we had no idea how important the dessert angle was going to be. It began with four cakes: the grasshopper Oreo ice cream pie, the salted caramel peanut ice cream pie, a pink champagne cake and the carrot,” says Kindle.
Though he started with just four desserts, Kindle now counts around 17 on any given day. He contends it took about a year before he realized Bridge City was a mom-and-pop Shari’s. Desserts are in the building’s history, as the first occupant was a Plush Pippin pie shop in the 1970s. “It probably happened inside the first year,” recalls Kindle. “I started by making two to three different ones a day. When people started asking for cakes to go for parties, I began loaning out my containers. It then dawned upon me that I had to buy cake boxes, even though I never intended to send cakes to go. Now, I order cake boxes 50 at a time from Amazon. With parchment rounds, I was cutting those out by hand from wax paper, but now I order them 1,000 at a time. I probably have 30 cake pans when I started with three. Today, I’ve used 21, and I’ve baked seven cakes this morning.”
Considering the amount of baked goods Kindle is producing, he admits they have become reflective in the bar’s overall profit. “Our sales are based 50 percent on food and 50 percent beer/wine/liquor. As far as the dessert portion, it’s maybe 20 to 30 percent,” he explains. “To put it in perspective, a beer costs $4.50, a plate of normal food is under $10 and a dessert is $4.95 to $5.95. So, desserts could be as much as 25 percent [of sales].”
The financial advantages brought forth through Bridge City’s underground bakery are no surprise. Ask his customers; they’re the ones who spur many of the recipes. “My husband and I are part of five to six couples who go in once or twice a month,” says Becky Woods, a resident of Summerplace and a Bridge City cake fanatic. “We get so excited to eat there and look at [Jason’s] specials. We choose cakes and pass them around. We love to ask what’s not on the menu and, a lot of the time, he has cakes that are not on the menu. Everybody dearly loves his desserts. I had my husband’s 80th birthday here.”
Woods’ husband’s birthday party is not the only type of celebration that Bridge City’s sweets have attracted. Kindle claims he’s baked for events ranging from celebrations of life to weddings. But for birthday parties, he’ll come out and cut up the cake for you himself, like you’re about to blow out candles in your own childhood kitchen.
Perhaps the most blinding part of Kindle’s foray into baking is the fact that still, nearly three years after Bridge City’s inception, he still bakes all the cakes himself. “People will see me running around cleaning tables with an apron on, and some of them don’t realize that we have cakes in the oven right in the middle of a happy hour rush. I constantly have to be checking on them,” explains Kindle. “I just watched a cook pull out a cake on camera while I’m talking to you. We have to have a hostess half the week because of the major wait. A lot of staff members come in to alleviate the stress by playing host without tips.”
Kindle’s staff have assimilated to Bridge City’s booming cake industry. Whenever Kindle forgets to hear the timer and a cake comes out slightly overcooked, it goes home with whoever happens to be working in the kitchen. “I can’t think of a sports bar offhand that sells desserts to this degree,” says Kindle. “It wasn’t expected, but it’s one of the things that people love about us. We’re receptive to the wants and needs of the customers. If you ask me for a special cake, I can probably get it done today or tomorrow.”
Open daily from 11 to 2 a.m., Bridge City is at 620 S.E. 122nd Ave. To order a cake, call 971-202-7267. See more images of Kindle’s scrumptious desserts on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/bridgecitytaproom.