The champagne was pouring, the quiches and fish were being devoured and the pastries were enticing Sunday at Gerhard’s Desserts in Lake Forest. It was a day of celebration as two decades have now passed since the shop first opened its doors and a very loyal clientele was created.
Gerhard’s is located on Western Avenue and celebrated its 20th anniversary Sunday amid toasts and tours of the rarely seen back end of the shop. It culminated a labor of love for Gerhard and Mary Greub.
“I enjoy what I do,” Gerhard said. “I know a lot of people who work because they have to work and are not really happy with what they are doing. But the food business you have to love it and have a passion for it. That’s what I have.”
Gerhard is the former executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel and ironically enough, he met Mary at the food buffet at a fundraiser they were both attending 22 years ago.
Mary, who was working in finance at the time, joined forces to open the business.
“Having worked at the Four Seasons Hotel we had a lot of customers from the North Shore that appreciated the top quality,” Gerhard said. “We put two and two together.”
The hours were long at the beginning and Mary went about the city with samples hoping to entice prospective customers. Often, she went to the nearby Metra stop in the late afternoon as people were coming home from work.
“We bake everything from scratch on the premises,” Mary said. “The European quality means we are less sweet.”
Eventually they developed a solid reputation around town and customers started meeting at the shop on a weekly basis.
One of those customers is Charlie Notarus, who was among the crowd that dropped in Sunday to celebrate.
“When you give them a challenge they love it and embrace it and in the end the baked goods are from the heart,” Notarus said.
Swiss-born Gerhard also talked about the rewards of the business. “I like having a customer that appreciates the quality and I can make a special occasion cake so the customer remembers that,” he said.
One such customer was Michelle Gassie, who recalled how Gerhard made her wedding cake ten years ago. It was a white cake with a touch of lemon and raspberry topped off with white chocolate.
Determined not to be a problematic bride, Gassie said she stood back and let Gerhard do his thing.
“I allowed him to be the creative artist that he is and I was thrilled that he made that cake for me personally,” Gassie said.
Gerhard’s also has an adjoining wholesale business that caters to the four- and five-star hotels around the area.
But the retail aspect remains a daily thrill.
“I love my customers and this was a party in honor of them,” Mary said proudly. “We are looking forward to the next 20 years.”