Perk Up Café Owners Pride Themselves on Authenticity
Writer / Molly Dykstra
Located on the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple, Perk Up Café is known by locals as a place to get a favorite caffeinated beverage. There are also cakes, paninis, slices of quiche, pretzels, artisanal breads for the week and fresh roasted coffee beans.
Owners Alice Matsuo and Jeanette Footman offer at least four varieties of bread every week. They also have a rotating menu of German cakes and pastries, in addition to those available year-round. Everything on the menu is made in-house, and from scratch. Orders can be placed for baked goods before they are even made, allowing customers to never be without their favorites. This also helps the owners decide how much to bake so they can avoid wasting food – something that Footman is very passionate about.
Although they bake together with a synchronicity that usually develops from a lifelong friendship, Footman and Matsuo did not meet until October of 2008. Little did they know that after meeting one another at Perk Up Café, their lives would never be the same.
By then, Footman was already selling her baked goods at the cafe. Her inspiration to bake came shortly after moving from Germany to America. She found that the pastries and cakes available here were far too sweet, and often drenched in sugary icing. While working at a local Mercedes dealership, she began to create German desserts that allowed the individual flavors of the ingredients to shine through. Eventually, she started a kaffeeklatsch at Perk Up, where locals could enjoy cake, coffee and a bit of gossip every Sunday. This kaffeeklatsch continues to thrive today. Her accomplishments were covered in an article that Matsuo, soon to move from Germany to Indiana, read.
Matsuo knew she had to meet Footman. Making artisanal breads had become Matsuo’s passion for the previous three years. A chemist by trade, she was fascinated by the fermentation process and the interactions of the ingredients, which is imperative to artisanal baking. While living in Germany, she wanted to learn to make the delicious local loaves, but quickly discovered that bread making is not taught as a hobby. It is a tradition requiring three years of training to master.
“The passion from the bakers I was lucky to meet, and the science behind the baking –with these two together, I could only decide to bake,” Matsuo explains.
She ended up not only receiving her certification, but also an award for being at the top of her class. After moving to America, she contacted Footman and arranged a meeting.
The two had an instant connection. Within three days of their Perk Up Café lunch, they were making plans to go into the baking business together. Since Matsuo holds a German certification for artisanal baking and Footman is a master of German cakes and pastries, it was a perfect match. Getting a commercial kitchen, however, proved to be a challenge. Trying to get a business loan when Matsuo had so recently arrived in America was almost impossible. That was when the owner of Perk Up Café offered to sell the business to them. By August of 2009, the new partners had officially taken over.
In the early days of their partnership, finding ingredients was difficult. According to German baking guidelines, whole-grain flour has to contain at least 90% whole grains, and they both felt it was important to exceed this. In 2009, however, this kind of flour was not readily available. They eventually found several mills across the country that offer 100% whole-grain flour that is also low in gluten. Now, thanks to a reliable distributor, Perk Up Café is never without the ingredients it needs to offer a variety of baked goods every day of the week. Matsuo creates their recipes, constantly tweaking them and experimenting with new flavors. She has an extensive list of her artisanal bread recipes, serving more than 40 different varieties on a rotating basis.
Their business has continued to thrive. Even during the pandemic, when many restaurants had to close either temporarily or permanently, Perk Up Café stayed open. According to Footman, their ticket to success during that time was a combination of factors.
“They never stopped coming – we have been lucky because we have this window,” Footman says of the shop’s walk-up window, which allowed them to close the dining room while still serving customers safely. Coming to Perk Up Café became a daily activity for many locals.
“This is what people looked forward to, to just come and get out of the house,” Footman says.
While the indoor dining room remains closed, they continue to serve a full menu and have expanded their patio to offer additional seating. Both owners are looking forward to having indoor seating again, but only plan to reopen that area when they are certain they won’t have to close it down again.
Since Footman and Matsuo bake in the kitchen for long hours, three to four days per week, they have a team of three baristas who cook and serve in the front.
“We want to serve quality products,” Matsuo says. “It has to come with quality service.”
Since they make everything from scratch, the baristas not only have to operate the only three-lever espresso machine in Indiana, but they also have to cook, assemble and serve every order.
“They have to manage themselves, but we don’t ask them to do anything we don’t do ourselves,” Footman says. “We consider them family. That’s how we try to operate.”
To find out about upcoming events, kaffeeklatsch, the menu and more, be sure to subscribe to the Perk Up Café newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. They are located at 6536 Cornell Avenue in Indianapolis. For more info, call 317-251-0033 or visit perkupindy.com.