“I never would have dreamed that I was going to open my own bakery when I moved to Hillsboro,” said Jamie Ross, recent Hillsboro transplant and owner of 3 Fern Hill bakery. “Life just kept presenting this idea to me in different ways.”
Estimated to open in early 2021, 3 Fern Hill will be located at 105 South Main Street in Hillsboro, the former home of Lemo’s Sports Tap.
The building is currently undergoing an extensive remodel but Ross hopes to coincide the bakery’s opening with the first day of spring.
Ross is working remotely with interior designer Allie Bruch of Studio Allie (www.studioallie.com) out of New Haven, CT, to bring new life to the long empty building.
The renovation includes refurbishing many of the building’s original elements, as well as installing wall-length windows to create a picturesque and inviting storefront.
The bar will be removed to create more space for seating and Ross hopes to offer outdoor seating in front of the bakery as well.
She also plans to install a picture window in the kitchen that will allow customers to view the baking process and interact with the bakers. Her future plans include remodeling the outdoor patio area behind the future bakery to open up seating options and possibly host small parties.
Ross plans to offer freshly baked breads, cookies, cakes, pastries and other treats as well as charcuterie and cheese boards.
3 Fern Hill will also have a liquor license and offer an assortment of wines.
While she plans to use regionally produced dairy and eggs in the items she bakes and will carry a variety of mid-western cheeses and meats for the bakery’s charcuterie boards, 3 Fern Hill will offer items to expand local palates as well.
Ross will not have a dedicated kitchen to legally offer gluten free options but will have a number of gluten-reduced items on hand at all times.
In anticipation of 3 Fern Hill’s official opening, Ross has been steadily building a client base over the last few months by offering pick up orders through 3 Fern Hill’s social media page on Facebook. Ross has, however, stopped taking online orders to focus on the increasing workload leading up to the bakery’s official opening. Gift cards (for future use) are currently available online by contacting Ross at www.facebook.com/3FernHill.
“When I moved to Hillsboro in July, I started making meals for some of the people that I met as a way to get to know people and make friends,” Ross explained. “But you know how things work in a small town, someone knew that I made bread and someone else knew that I made cakes and before long they started asking if they could buy baked goods from me.”
Baking is second nature to Ross, who was raised in the Mennonite faith on a farm in rural Missouri. The oldest child, she was often tasked with baking and some of her earliest memories are of foraging for berries to bake cobblers and pies for her family. As a young adult, Ross began to feel stifled and decided to spend some time living abroad. It was during her travels that she first began to use the skills from her childhood to form personal connections with the people around her.
“I put college on the back burner and ended up going overseas. I spent a lot of time in Central Asia and that was where I realized that it is much faster to learn how to cook someone’s food than it is to pick up their language,” Ross explained. “Learning the language was important to me but it took a long time to show results. Whereas, if I went into someone’s kitchen and they taught me to make something, it was less about reading a recipe or verbal instructions than it was about watching and feeling and seeing. To make people their food was a more immediate way to show respect for their culture and form meaningful connections.”
Ross continued traveling abroad, teaching English. Eventually she ended up in Israel where she completed a year-long internship earning her Masters in Divinity. Throughout her years spent wandering the world, Ross continued to rely on food as a way to build connections and form friendships. She also found that it was a great way to reconnect with family and friends when she returned to the states.
“I learned to cook a lot of different meals, and cooking and baking became a very important part of how I learned to connect with people,” said Ross. “When I would come back home it was hard to relate because everyone else’s lives had continued on without me. Food was a way for me to reconnect with my family and friends, and for them to experience a little bit of what my life was like while I was away.”
While food has always played a substantial role in Ross’ life, she never entertained the idea of baking or cooking professionally. It wasn’t until Ross was left recuperating from a traumatic brain injury, after a biking accident in the fall of 2017, that she began to view her skills in the kitchen as something that she could turn into a means of financial security.
“At the time of the accident, I was living in Wisconsin, working as a managing editor for a theological publication. I loved it and I was good at it, but my brain injury changed everything,” Ross said, with resilience tinging her words. “It was heavy book work and after the accident I couldn’t return to that kind of mental workload. I lost everything. My husband. My career. Everything. It was a complete identity crisis.”
Ross found herself relocating from Wisconsin to Memphis, TN, to be close to family.It was in Memphis, recuperating from a serious brain injury, that Ross found herself turning to cooking once again.
“The things I found easiest to do post-brain injury were the things I had done as a child because they are so deeply embedded in the psyche. One of the things I did for myself was that I pressed flowers, because it was easy and creative and I knew how to do it. Then bread baking came back. Baking is something I know how to do without thinking. It is about feeling,” Ross explained. “When you bake it is all about sharing; no one eats a whole cake on their own. So, from the start, even though it was therapy for me, I had to share the items I was baking. I was giving baked goods away to my friends and all of a sudden they were like ‘you should at least charge for the ingredients.’ That was really how the profit aspect came into being.”
After three years of recuperation, Ross needed to get back on her feet financially and get a job. Still mentally unable to return to her former career, Ross found herself at a loss. It was then that a long time friend, Jonathan Weyer, told Ross about a small town in Illinois he had moved to, after accepting a position as city planner.
“Jonathan and I have been friends for ages. He suggested Hillsboro was a really wonderful place to live where I can walk everywhere and ease back into the work world,” said Ross, with a laugh. “I moved here with the intention to bake for an already established business. Little did I know.”
While baking professionally had not been on Ross’ radar previous to her accident, it is somewhat of a family tradition. Her grandmother was well-known for the pies and baked goods she made for area restaurants in their Missouri hometown. Ross plans to honor her grandmother’s legacy by pulling out some of her recipes for 3 Fern Hill. She also wants to highlight local recipes and is looking for cook books made by area ladies societies and auxiliaries, as well as family recipes that have been passed down.
Currently Ross is focused on getting the physical bakery up and running. Her immediate plans include hiring at least one person to help in the kitchen and 2 to 3 people to help in the shop.
“3 Fern Hill is very much a byproduct of Hillsboro’s hospitality and eagerness to see the downtown area expand,” said Ross. “Initially I will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. I want to provide a warm and inviting place where the community can enjoy being together because Hillsboro has been so welcoming to me.”
Those interested can follow 3 Fern Hill’s progress at their Facebook page. A website for the bakery (www.3fernhill.com) is currently in development.