Made in the Tri-States: Dubuque bakery continues to evolve

Georgia Mihalakis removes ciabatta bread from the oven at Millwork Bakery. Through the years, she’s been in different downtown Dubuque locations with her businesses, which had a connection to baked goods. In 2017, she made the White Street site the focal point. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

For Georgia Mihalakis, operating a local bakery is more than a livelihood.

It is a passion that consumes her mind and a considerable amount of her time.

“I am up at 2 or 3 in the morning and working 10 hours a day at a minimum,” she said. “I work 12 to 14 hours on the busiest days. I cannot get used to living like a normal person.”

During the past couple of decades, Mihalakis’ business has taken different forms and occupied multiple locations.

Today her enterprise operates under the moniker Millwork Bakery, a business that fulfills wholesale and carryout orders from its location at 848 White St.

Millwork Bakery creates tasty appetizers and delectable desserts available at a wide array of businesses.

It is known for its selection of pastries, including made-from-scratch croissants and danishes. Mihalakis said she follows the European-style approach to baking, using recipes that lean more heavily on butter than sugar.

Customers also have come to rely on Millwork Bakery’s unique bread creations, which include cranberry walnut, olive rosemary and crusty French.

Mihalakis said her passion for perfecting bread recipes is a big part of what got her hooked on baking. She improved the product by taking classes through the San Francisco Baking Institute, as well as conducting some trial-and-error of her own.

“I always liked baking bread at home,” she said. “I started fooling around with that, I read books and I tried different styles of baking.”

Mihalakis’ bakery business has bounced around many of downtown Dubuque’s most heavily trafficked areas.

In 2002, Mihalakis opened Manna Java World Cafe at 269 Main St. She moved her business to the Roshek Building, 700 Locust St., in the fall of 2010 and remained there for about seven years.

Because the Roshek Building didn’t have space for a full bakery, she would bake the bread in a rented space at 848 White St. and bring the product to 700 Locust.

When Mihalakis closed the Roshek Building location in 2017, she continued to use the White Street location and made it the focal point of her business.

She said the pivot wasn’t a particularly risky proposition. She installed a new cooler and freezer at the White Street facility, but otherwise didn’t have to make a major investment.

Three years after shifting the business model, it is proving successful.

“Doing business this way actually worked out better than the cafe did,” Mihalakis said.

In recent weeks, Millwork Bakery’s business model has faced unprecedented interruptions.

Mihalakis announced last week that she was temporarily suspending direct sales to individual customers within the bakery, a measure taken to limit contact and enhance safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure of the winter farmers market — also prompted by the virus — has further hindered the bakery’s reach. Mihalakis has long been a mainstay at the market, which is held outdoors in downtown Dubuque during warmer months and migrates to the interior of the Kennedy Mall during the winter.

She is looking forward to eventually resuming direct sales and returning to the farmers market.

In the meantime, she is continuing to bake items and distribute them to area restaurants.

Many of Millwork Bakery’s clients reside just a couple of blocks away.

That includes 7 Hills Brewing Co., which sells cheesecake and pretzel bites made by Mihalakis.

Owner Keith Gutierrez said it’s obvious to customers that these products are made locally. Products that are processed, packaged and shipped long distances just don’t have the freshness that items from Millwork Bakery possess.

“She puts her love into her craft as much as we do,” he said.

The fact that the two business are located only blocks apart also helps.

Gutierrez noted that Mihalakis can customize orders on the fly.

It only takes minutes for a 7 Hills employees to swing by Millwork Bakery. Occasionally, Mihalakis drops orders off at 7 Hills after leaving the bakery for the day.

“It is a real positive, give-and-take partnership that we have developed,” Gutierrez said.

Three years after transitioning her business model, Mihalakis is confident that her business can remain a successful one.

Its longevity might come down to how long she’s willing to log the long hours. Millwork Bakery initially had one employee, but it is now a one-woman operation.

“The demand is there,” she said. “It really comes down to, ‘How much work do I want to do?’”

Mihalakis said she’s driven by the passion to create tasty treats.

Even after all these years, she is in search of the perfect recipe.

“It gets in my head,” she said with a laugh. “I wake up in the middle of the night and I think, ‘That is what I’m gonna do.’ I am always thinking about it.”