Meet Sam Stout: Retail Pastry Assistant Manager

Sam won our 2023 Core Value Award for Embracing Diversity

Each life has its own propensity for illumination, a moment when purpose and passion converge to cast a guiding light. Sam Stout found hers at Macrina, a much larger company than she’d previously worked for. A veteran pastry chef with a resume that includes some of Seattle’s finer restaurants, Sam found her work life abruptly interrupted by the pandemic. After five months of unemployment, a friend mentioned Macrina might be looking for someone with her expertise. With her experience, Sam was hired into the retail pastry department in 2020.

Initially, Sam felt somewhat out of place working within a larger team. “When I started at Macrina, I thought it was going to be temporary until I could get back to a pastry chef position at a restaurant,” Sam says. However, as she settled in to her new role, the quality and creativity of the pastries and desserts impressed her. Even more important was how comfortable she felt in the kitchen and the respect with which she was treated. She developed a special bond with Katarina Ducharme, the Pastry General Manager, and found Leslie Mackie, Macrina’s founder, to be both warm and inspiring. “I was able to see a future with Macrina that promised stability and opportunities to grow.”

Macrina’s retail pastry team creates all the specialized pastries for the cafés, including the mousse cakes, pies, and cakes. Working in the space behind Macrina’s Sodo café, their creations are on display through large windows at the back of the café. “It’s especially fun when the kids watch,” Sam says. “Sometimes we sneak out and give them a cookie.”

Last year, Macrina participated in the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) Spring Spark, a whimsical fundraiser where creativity, community, and confections are celebrated. Leslie and Sam collaborated with PNB star Lucien Postlewaite to invent a new dessert, which they named Oberon’s Rose Pavlova. Comprising a rose meringue with raspberry lychee mousse, fresh berries, and gold dust, it clinched the title for best dessert in the playful competition. “That was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” says Sam. “It was the first time I’d gotten to spend a lot of time with Leslie. Creating food with her was wonderful. I’m so glad we’ve been invited to participate again this year.”

Macrina’s Core Value Awards — Hard Working, Remaining Positive, Continuously Improving, Embracing Diversity, and Integrity in All We Do — are among the company’s highest honors. During the presentation of the 2023 awards, Sam sat beside Leslie, who rose to introduce the Embracing Diversity award. As Leslie spoke, Sam was taken aback to hear praise for qualities that mirrored her own. “It took a moment for me to recognize she was talking about me,” says Sam.

Outgoing and friendly, Sam has illuminated the paths of many who work alongside her. She meets people where they are and finds ways to bring out their best. “I love to teach people to bake,” says Sam. “If you’re willing to learn and listen, make mistakes, pick yourself up, and learn from it, I can teach you.”

As Leslie proudly presented the Embracing Diversity award to Sam, it was a moment of affirmation for the values that stand at the center of Macrina. “She has brought so much creative energy to our retail pastry team,” says Leslie. “Sam and Katarina bubble up ideas and exhaust themselves perfecting the recipes. Sam has worked in restaurants for years and has distilled the best of all those experiences into creating an inclusive environment at work. The result is an inspired staff that truly feels valued. We so appreciate all that she brings to our Macrina family.”

Originally from Midland, Texas, Sam moved to Seattle in 2014 and fell in love with the city and surroundings. “Seattle is so beautiful,” she says. “There’s so much water — greens and blues everywhere. I love rain. I grew up with tumbleweeds and tarantulas. I miss my family but not the sun and heat. And I just love the ferries, the many long bridges over water, and the great food around here.”

Meet Alex Kaiser: GM at the Belltown Café

Most Macrina GMs begin their careers behind the counter and gradually ascend to leadership positions. Alex Kaiser is the rare exception. Joining Macrina in January 2024, he brought with him more than a decade of management experience in the hospitality industry. He immediately impressed our leadership team with his people and management skills.

Previously the manager of a popular local sports bar, Alex was looking to transition into a management role in a growing, community-focused company. “I loved Macrina’s products and had heard great things about the company as a place to work,” Alex says, adding that he was also ready to embrace a lifestyle that didn’t involve working late into the evening. “I met the Macrina leadership team and felt really comfortable right away.”

For the first few weeks, Alex trained at the other Macrina cafes, learning from each of the GMs and their management styles. “There were subtle differences in how they approached things, but one thing they all had in common was a sense of happiness and positivity,” says Alex. “It felt like a theme, which made me very comfortable coming in.”

Arriving as an outsider came with its hurdles, but Alex quickly earned the trust and support of his Belltown crew. “I inherited a great team,” says Alex. “Strong people, hard workers, great personalities, and very positive. That made the transition a lot smoother.”

Before moving to Seattle in mid-2020, Alex, originally from North Dakota, spent a decade living and working in Baltimore. His leadership roles there included overseeing the bars and restaurants at a Maryland horse track and managing a prestigious members-only club frequented by professional athletes.

As the pandemic hit, Alex took a two-week hike on the Appalachian Trail. “It was a blast,” Alex says. “It was kind of my first foray into backpacking. I just kind of dove in headfirst — maybe a little too headfirst.” That trip led to a visit to the PNW for another hiking trip. He fell in love with Seattle and the natural splendor of the area, prompting his move to the city with his brother. In his spare time, he continues to explore the outdoors by trail.

Although his brother eventually returned to his hometown in North Dakota, Alex has embraced the collaborative and positive culture at Macrina and found a home in Seattle’s vibrant community.

Meet Katarina Ducharme: Retail Pastry General Manager

As a kid growing up in Spokane, Katarina always wanted to bake but didn’t know that was a viable job option. Then she enrolled in a ProStart program, a nationwide, two-year high school program focusing on culinary skills and hospitality. “I got really involved,” says Katarina. “I catered for other clubs at school and competed through the program in state-wide competitions. I had a teacher and mentor who said you could do this as a job. This could be a very fulfilling career for you.”
That experience earned her scholarships to the Culinary Institute of America, located in Napa Valley, and one of the country’s premier baking and pastry programs. Katarina interned at Macrina for four months as part of completing her degree. We were so impressed with her skills and passion that we offered her a job right out of school.
“I really liked my experience at Macrina and was excited to come work here,” says Katarina.
Katarina worked for two years directly with Erica Olsen, our former Retail Pastry General Manager, who has now been promoted to Wholesale Sales Manager. Under Erica’s close tutelage, Katarina mastered our products.
“The people and the environment at Macrina are really friendly,” Katarina says. “I love the product and the energy. Everyone wants to be at work, and they care about each other.”
Her favorite challenge: developing new recipes with Leslie and Blake Gehringer, Macrina’s production manager. “I love working with Leslie and Blake to perfect the new recipes,” says Katarina.
When not at work, Katarina loves to dine out at Seattle’s great restaurants, go thrifting, and spend time at local parks. She also loves to cook savory food at home. “You get results so much more quickly. And you can taste as you go.”

Meet our Family: Elizabeth (Lizz) Krhounek

After seven plus years at McGraw, Lizz is taking her show on the road in her new position as our Assistant Retail Operations Manager.

If you’ve been to our McGraw café on Queen Anne, chances are you know Lizz. Since 2013, she ran our McGraw café. Efficient and gregarious, Lizz charmed customers, trained new employees, and kept the busy café running smoothly. Over the summer of 2021, we promoted her to Assistant Retail Operations Manager.

In her new role, she will float between all five of our cafés, supporting Crystal Kitchin, our Retail Operations Manager. Lizz will help train employees, support managers, improve consistency between cafés, and fill scheduling gaps. Most comfortable behind the counter, Lizz will frequently be found in one of the cafés helping customers find what they’re looking for when she’s not updating our training manuals or teaching new employees the craft of making great coffee drinks.

Asked how it feels to leave McGraw, her workplace for the last seven and half years, Lizz says, “It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. I definitely miss the regulars and all the crew there, but I’m enjoying getting to know the customers and crew at other stores. I’m having fun. And it helps to know that McGraw is now in the hands of Russell, my very capable assistant manager when I was there.”

With new challenges on the horizon, Lizz is excited to develop new skills. “My biggest challenge right now is learning how to best support the café GMs to help them execute their vision for the store,” Lizz says.

When she’s not working, Lizz spends a lot of time planning her next big adventure. Every year (pandemic aside), she takes an epic trip. In 2020, just before the world shut down, she spent two weeks in New Zealand—and sneaked in a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl in Hawaii on the trip back to Seattle. When travel is safe again, Lizz is planning a big trip to Ireland.

Lizz’s favorite part of working for Macrina is the holiday season, our busiest time of year. She says, “Being in one of the cafés at 2:30 a.m. in my pajamas and listening to music while we get all the Thanksgiving and Christmas orders ready is really fun.”

Solidarity with the Asian Community

The alarming rise of pandemic-related racism against Asian Americans has contributed to an increase in hate crimes, including the horrific shootings in Atlanta. At Macrina, we are proud of our diverse crew, which includes many people of Asian descent, Vietnam in particular. We stand together against hate, intolerance, and racism. Macrina employee, Michelle Galvin, a fourth-generation Japanese American, shares some of her troubling experiences and a plea for kindness in these difficult times.

Over the past year, Covid has changed all our lives dramatically. With changes to how we socialize, work and even buy our groceries, life has been different and difficult. For those of us, like myself, who are of Asian descent, an additional challenge has been contending with heightened bias and discrimination.

Living in Seattle for my adult life has been a blessing. I grew up right outside of Chicago. As a child, my schoolmates regularly taunted me. They called me “Ching Chong Chinaman,” and made fun of the rice balls I brought for lunch. Our next-door neighbors, a family with three boys, said I was the reason for WWII. They blamed me for their grandfather’s death. I was six.

Moving to Marysville, WA, in my teenage years was liberating. Though I was one of the only Asian kids in school, I never experienced racism like I had in Illinois. Years later, as an adult living in the Seattle area, I was relieved my four children would not experience the sort of racism I did. And it has been better, much better. Still, we talk about how irritating it is when people ask us where we are from and when we answer Seattle, they say, no, where are you really from. And once a parent of a kid in my daughter’s first-grade class asked me if I was Mia or Gracie’s mom—she could never tell us people apart, she said. (My daughter, Gracie, asked me at the time if it was because her glasses were broken.) Despite the occasional challenge, my children have always felt comfortable and proud of their Japanese heritage.

One of our family’s favorite places is the International District. We visit at least once weekly —grocery shopping at Uwajimaya, dumplings at Dough Zone or pastries at Fuji Bakery. When the International District was vandalized earlier this summer, it broke my heart. As if Covid and quarantine weren’t enough of a challenge to our beloved restaurants and shops in that neighborhood! Rising hate crimes against Asians have added to the struggle. It brought tears to my eyes to have to tell my teenage children that it was not a good idea for them to go to the International District by themselves to get Boba in the evening because it is not safe.

We have always prided ourselves on the welcoming work environment at Macrina. There is truly no place here for hate, discrimination, or racism. Our head baker, Phuong Hoang Bui, has been at Macrina nearly since we opened, and he embodies the spirit of the Macrina community as much as anyone. His daughter, Amy Bui, who ran around our Belltown café at the age of three is now our general manager of wholesale sales. A great many of our bakers are Vietnamese. They are who we are.

We want to be sure the Asian community knows that we stand with them. We condemn the hate crimes and casual racism that are happening in our community against our Asian friends, employees, customers and peers. Macrina is a long-time supporter of Helping Link and the Vietnamese community. Most importantly, we hope to spread a message of kindness during these difficult times.

-Michelle Galvin

Meet Marc Mitchell: Food Safety AM

At heart, Marc Mitchell is a baker. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu before coming to work at Macrina Bakery in 2013. Marc started on our bread team before moving to wholesale pastry, where he took on leadership roles. But when the position of Food Safety AM opened up late in 2020, Marc’s skills made him a natural fit for the job. He applied and got it.

Not only is he intimately familiar with the various departments, but also with the people, processes and the vital importance of food safety. Like any great pastry chef, Marc is very attentive to detail, which serves him well in his new role. Working closely with Blake Gehringer, Macrina’s Production Manager, Marc oversees every element of food safety at our bakery and cafés. He spends his days training, answering questions, observing, documenting, testing and continuously learning.

One of Marc’s challenges is teaching employees whose first language isn’t English. But Marc has transcended the challenge by learning some Vietnamese, getting translation help when needed, visual aids and frequently demonstrating the proper procedure. “I teach by showing,” he says.

Raised in Washington state to a Filipino mother and American father, Marc learned to love Filipino food. When he’s not working, he and his wife (also Filipino) love to cook chicken adobo and other classic Filipino dishes.

As a kid, Marc learned to work on cars with his father, who sadly is no longer with us. The passion continues, and in his free time, Marc can often be found tinkering under the hood. Pressed on his dream car, Marc thinks a moment, then says, “Ferrari 458 Italia. It’s very nice, but not too bad on the pocket—as Ferraris go.”

To Make Great Banh Mi, Start with the Right Bread 

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or Tet, falls on February 12 this year. The day is a significant holiday at Macrina. Our head bakers, Phuong Hoang Bui and Thanh Huyen Dang, are Vietnamese, as are many of our bakers. Artisanal French and Italian traditions influence most of our bread, and the food in our cafes hews Mediterranean with a few American favorites thrown in, but an exception is our Bui Bun, made for banh mi, which was developed by Phuong with help from the bread team.

Banh Mi, the classic street-vendor Vietnamese sandwich, is one of the best comfort foods around. In Seattle, options abound, from traditional to hybrid. The one constant, in our favorites at least, is the right bread—fresh and airy, with the right mix of crackle, spring, and chew.

The baguette was introduced to Vietnam during French colonial rule in the early twentieth century. The earliest “banh mi” were straightforward, sometimes just a smear of butter and some ham or pâté, in the traditional Parisian fashion. But over time, both the bread and toppings evolved to become the unique, zesty Vietnamese sandwich that has claimed a spot in the global hall of culinary fame. Stacked with variations on satisfying fillings like cured and cooked pork, sliced ham, chicken liver pâté, green herbs, pickled vegetables, chili peppers, and spiced-up mayonnaise, the banh mi toppings are held together by a Vietnamese-style baguette or roll. The complex flavor of banh mi is a swirl of history, complementary and contrasting flavors, and a riot of textures—crunchy and tender—that make many other sandwiches seem boring in comparison.

For years, we served a bahn mi sandwich in the Macrina cafés on our Giuseppe Panini Baguette. We filled them with tofu, roast pork, chicken or flank steak, and classic banh mi toppings. It was good, but not quite right—we needed the right bread.

We turned to Phuong, who has been our head baker for over 20 years. Phuong started at Macrina as a dishwasher in early 1994, just after Macrina opened, and quickly proved himself to be a quick learner and skilled with bread in all its phases—dough, proofing, shaping, and baking.

“Phuong took the lead on developing an authentic banh mi bun, a product we’d later name after him,” says Leslie Mackie, Macrina’s founder. “He involved many of his fellow Vietnamese bakers at Macrina, bringing the whole bread production team together, including seeking out recipes from various cousins and parents, here and back in Vietnam. After months of testing, getting special pans, and testing it with our staff, customers, we launched our Bui Buns named after Phuong.”

The Bui Bun has a crisp crust and tender, airy crumb, just right for the perfect banh mi sandwich. Moreover, the bun, its creators, and the team-oriented approach symbolize one of our core values at Macrina: celebrating diversity.

To Phuong, Huyen, our fantastic crew, and everyone who celebrates the Lunar New Year, we wish you a year full of blessings and good fortune. Thank you for everything.

 

Meet Eric Holstad: Reporting and Systems Manager

“It’s very inspirational to see the passion for the products and to see how well everyone works together here,” says Eric Holstad, Macrina Bakery’s Reporting and Systems Manager. In his role, he deals with every facet of Macrina’s operations from the executive team and sales to production and delivery.

Eric is a natural when it comes to understanding technology and ensuring that it works for everyone else. He manages the software that powers our wholesale operation and prepares key reports that our leadership team can use to optimize our performance. Eric’s analytical skills mesh well with those of Macrina’s President, Scott France. “I really appreciate Scott’s critical thinking skills and the logical thought process behind how he does things,” Eric says.

Another reason Eric is a treasured colleague is that when you have a computer or server issue in the office, he is the magician who makes the problem vanish.

Before coming to Macrina full-time in 2019, Eric worked for Pagliacci Pizza for 17 years. He started in the stores, rising to a general manager before being recruited to the office where his computer skills and attention to detail were needed.

“I love working with Leslie,” Eric says. “Her enthusiasm brings everyone along and gets you pumped about what we’re doing and where we’re going next. And our production and delivery crew is very diverse, much more so than any job I’ve had before, and I think that’s great. It exposes me to new cultures and new kinds of people. I appreciate having that in my life.”

Outside of work, one could define Eric by three deep passions: music, computers and food. He enjoys listening to music and collecting vinyl records of his favorites. “I’m a fan of music in general,” he says. “There’s no genre I wouldn’t listen to. I’m very open when it comes to experiencing music.” When he has time, he plays the bass guitar. But time is limited these days by a relatively new addition to his life: a young daughter. “It’s such a life-changing event to have a child,” he says.

Meet Trevor Kitchin: Food Safety GM

At heart, Trevor is a teacher, his field before coming to Macrina Bakery. As our Food Safety General Manager, Trevor puts those skills to good use. He worked with Blake Gehringer, Macrina’s Production Manager, to establish food safety plans for both retail and wholesale operations. He spends his days training, answering questions, observing, documenting, testing, and continuously learning.

Trevor Kitchen

In 2016, Trevor was hired by Macrina and applied his skills as an educator to food safety, as an assistant manager for three years before taking over the top spot in 2019.

“I love the teaching part and have a lot of patience,” Trevor says. “I recognize where employees are and help them get to the point they need to be.”

Many languages are spoken at our bakery, and all of Trevor’s teaching skills come into play. “I use visual guides and often work through the GM of each department, all of whom can translate,” Trevor says. “When I do formal trainings I hire translators.”

It could be said that Trevor has a rooted interest in food safety that goes beyond the obvious: He’s married to our Retail Operations General Manager, Crystal Kitchin.

Both Crystal and Trevor were born and raised in the Seattle area and are very close to their families. At their wedding, in addition to their extended families, many members of their Macrina family were there to cheer them on—along with a Macrina wedding cake.

Trevor took Crystal boating in the San Juan Islands, one of his favorite places. “She fell in love with the islands as well,” he says. When time permits, they love exploring the islands in the nineteen-foot Cutty Cabin boat. At home, visiting family and spending time with their husky are significant parts of their life.

And the best part of his job (besides Crystal)?

“The people that work at Macrina are fantastic,” Trevor says. “That’s why I work here.”

Meet Jennifer Truong: Macrina’s Wholesale Office General Manager

Born and raised in South Seattle, Jennifer Truong had no desire to leave the city when she graduated from the University of Washington in Environmental Studies. Her job search led to Macrina Bakery, which was hiring Customer Service Representatives. “I was looking for a job to help me pay off my student loans,” Jennifer says. “Office work and the chance to connect with people was great.”

Five years later, Jennifer has grown into the job of Wholesale Office General Manager. “I fell in love with the whole team,” Jennifer says. “They continue to grow me and give me new opportunities. It’s a great environment to work in. “I manage the Customer Service Representatives, making sure we deliver exceptional customer service.”


In addition to taking care of Macrina’s wholesale customers, Jennifer works with production and delivery to ensure they have what they need to execute their jobs.

Jennifer cites Macrina’s Wholesale Manager Fanny Alvarado, and her hard work and management style, as a major influence. “I’ve learned from Fanny to remind myself that this is really a small business. We have the ability to be flexible and adapt to changes as we need to. We learn and grow from our experiences.”

Outside of work, Jennifer loves to get together with Amy Bui, Macrina’s General Manager of Wholesale Sales, and dine out. Often they visit Macrina’s wholesale customers. “I’m definitely a foodie,” Jennifer says.

Crab is a favorite. Summer weekends are often spent dropping the crab pot from her double kayak in the Sound, enjoying a paddle, and returning to see if a crab dinner is awaiting.
Another favorite: Seattle. “I love that I live a short drive from downtown,” Jennifer says. “Or I can go the other direction, and I’m in the mountains. I love the views. I don’t know if I could imagine life without seeing Mount Rainier”