Raymond Mikesell: Breadmaker for Ballplayers and Presidents

By Alex Mell

Shaking the hand of Raymond Mikesell is like gripping the hand of a professional football player. It is large, strong – and perfect for digging into dough and kneading it to perfection to make the breads and pastries. His shop, Café Raymond, is the place where those hands work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a regular basis doing what he loves most: Baking.

Mikesell discovered he had a love for food and cooking at an early age, learning from his father, a former chef.

“I got thrills for cooking for my family,” Mikesell said. “I wanted to see people happy when they ate.”

In 1984, Mikesell started working in product development at Breadworks, an artisan bakery on the North Side. He worked there for 13 years. With some Breadworks co-workers, he traveled to France in 1990 to study the European style of bread.

“We studied the French way of baking bread,” Mikesell said. “One of the owners set up the trip so that we could study the culture, wine, cuisine and the general experience of the European lifestyle.”

Hearty Sandwiches/Photo by Fred Blauth

Hearty Sandwiches/Photo by Fred Blauth

After returning from France, Mikesell and his wife, Marie, decided to move to Baltimore, Maryland, where he became the president of the Stone Mill Bakery. While there, he also served as president of two other bakeries and a commissary kitchen, where foods are processed from raw to semi-cooked to ready-to-eat.

“We moved to Baltimore because my wife has family there,” Mikesell said. “Stone Mill is an upscale bakery and where I got my start to experiment with other foods rather than bread.”

While he was in Baltimore, Mikesell’s bread was served at the White House during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which hosts over four million visitors each year, and the American History Museum in Washington D.C. were also regular customers. He supplied the Smithsonian for about three years.

“I felt pride having my bread served to that many people each year,” Mikesell said. “It was also a chance to expand my knowledge because they would ask for many different types of bread and I would have to go on the Internet and teach myself how to make them.” Working in the food industry and developing relationships with people is an important part of the business, according to Mikesell.

Kelly Ripken, wife of former Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop, Cal Ripken Jr., would often dine at the bakery. She was a fan of Mikesell’s rugula, a sweet pastry, and he eventually started catering at the Ripken home.

While working with the Ripkens, he developed a friendship with Cal and was invited to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2007. That year, Cal and former San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn, were the only two players voted into the Hall of Fame, and Mikesell had the once-in a-lifetime experience of riding on the bus with the players and their families to the ceremony.

“It was a great experience,” Mikesell said.  “After the ceremony, I got to go to the Oriole party with past and present players and got the chance to meet them.”

Mikesell said that the Ripkens are “down-toearth people” – and big fans of his tiramisu.  The experiences Mikesell had in Baltimore helped him realize that he wanted to have a business of his own.

“I worked with a couple of good chefs and I paid attention,” Mikesell said. “It was a lot of trial and error while learning to cook other foods besides bread.”

Mikesell, Marie and his three children, Sarah, Ray and Emily, moved back to Pittsburgh because he wanted his children to experience Pittsburgh, the beloved city where he grew up.

He took a chance by opening his own business in the Strip District almost five years ago, but he didn’t want to end up working for someone else when he had gained such great knowledge through all of his experiences.

“It is hard to survive when you first open and I went through all of my savings to start the business,” Mikesell said. “It takes a good three years to turn the corner and for the business to become a success.”

Café Raymond is a favorite catering choice of many upscale clients, including investment firms, from Downtown Pittsburgh. Mikesell offers everything from sandwiches to braised short ribs to his customers, and he is happy with the location of his shop.

“I love the Strip,” Mikesell said. “You can walk out the door and go in any direction and find what you need.”

Mikesell also loves the Strip because it is such a diversified area, from visitors from Toronto to college parents dropping their kids off for school. He also believes that people like change and he feels his shop offers just that.

Serving anything from blueberry ricotta pancakes to lox omeletos, Café Raymond has just what customers crave.

“In today’s world, people want diversity and I try to give them that,” Mikesell said. “People don’t want to travel from place to place to get what they need; they want it in one spot.”