Karin Emde has had an adventurous work life. She worked as a chef in Afghanistan for three years and in the remote oil fields of Canada for ten years. In the oil fields she worked a week on and a week off, and would save up to have three weeks to come to Eureka Springs to visit her parents, Lynn and Judy Holden.
After her dad passed away in 2016, Karin moved to Eureka Springs, and in May she opened The Bakers Table at 77 Spring Street.
“We didn’t want mum here by herself,” Karin said. “Having a small shop here was always something in the back of my mind, it just got expedited because of the circumstances. My parents always owned restaurants and hotels, so I was basically born into the restaurant industry. Ever I since could reach the stove, I was baking. I started baking cakes, cookies and other things with one of those kids-can-bake cookbooks, so that was pretty fun.”
She got a pastry chef degree in Vancouver, and started working at different hotels and restaurants in Canada. After two years, she saw an advertisement for a chef job in Afghanistan and ended up cooking in Kabul for military personnel from 34 nations.
‘We lived in tents with seven other people,” she recalls. “There was no air conditioning and you are in the middle of a desert. Even the kitchen wasn’t air-conditioned. I was baking for three thousand people. My helpers were Nepalese and spoke little English, so that was an interesting challenge. Even trying to source food was difficult. Sometimes our trucks would get blown up and we wouldn’t get food.”
It was during this stint in Afghanistan in 2004-2005 that she met Garnet Blanchette. He was in charge of garde manger, which is all the cold foods, fruits, salads and fresh produce. She and Blanchette, co-owner of Nibbles Eatery next to The Bakers Table, became close friends.
“You built friendships quickly because you were thousands of miles from home in such a harsh environment,” Emde said. “Your new family was who you were with.”
After Afghanistan, Karin went back to work as a chef catering for Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. About a year-and-a-half into that job, Blanchette contacted her to offer her a food provisions job in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which she did from 2007-2009.
Then back to Canada where she worked as a baker in remote oil field camps, one of very few women in a camp full of men.
“I did that for years, then the workers convinced me to go back to school and become a power engineer,” Karin said. “It was better pay, but it was just a different thing. You are not personally connecting or making any person happy. It’s just starting and maintaining boilers, pumps and turbines.”
Karin didn’t find the same satisfaction working as a power engineer as she did with baking. So, while visiting her mother in December 2016 she saw the shop next to Nibbles was for sale, and bought it.
She enjoys being next door to her friends at Nibbles. “They are really kind and want me to succeed. They are there for anything I need help with and vice versa. It’s is a non-competitive environment between the us.”
Karin goes to work at the bakery at 3 a.m. and enjoys the calmness of Eureka Springs in early morning.
“Everything is so quiet,” she said. “You really get to feel the town in that moment. This town is stunning. Every day I wake up, I see the sun hitting trees, and the leaves changing color, it’s beautiful, breathtaking. The people in this town are absolutely outstanding. It is unlike anything I’ve seen in my life, just some of the most wonderful people. We are very grateful that the town has been so embracing of us.”
Karin said Eureka Springs is a far different environment from where she worked in Canada and Afghanistan. In the past ten years in Canada, she lived in an 11×12-ft. room.
“At some point, you want a real life back,” she said. “Plus, I really enjoy the personal gratification from running a bakery. When someone bites into something you made, it’s happiness. You see happiness when you make someone a treat. Not many people are grumpy when eating a warm chocolate chip cookie.”
The Bakers Table is open for breakfast and lunch Thursday through Monday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sticky buns, cheesecakes and pies are the most popular baked goods, but you might as well have a cheese or berry Danish just for comparison’s sake.