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My three sons

Posted: Tuesday, Sep 25th, 2012

The Backstage clan: Dominic and Jefferson Inhat, Nancy Affinito-Semenov, Anna Klejwa and Alex Inhat.

Family comes together backstage

When raising her three boys, Nancy Affinito-Semenov sought to pass down knowledge and skills that would be useful to them throughout their lives. So she started in the kitchen.

“It’s great to have a skill you can pass down,” she said. “There are a lot of kids out there who spend a lot of time learning, but they don’t come out of it with a useful skill. But people will always eat.”

These days, Affinito-Semenov still spends most of her day in the kitchen, and, thanks to the snowballing of events that began more than a year ago, her three sons—Jefferson, Alex and Dominic Inhat—join her there, both at their Cottage Grove home and the Backstage Bakery, where the term “family business” means fresh-baked bread and piping hot cinnamon rolls.

Just over a year ago, Affinito-Semenov managed Café Amour in the Cottage Grove Community Hospital, Alex and Dominic Inhat helped open Meiji, a popular new restaurant in Eugene, Oregon and Jefferson Inhat tended bar at the Axe & Fiddle. Each of the boys had made recent pilgrimages back to Cottage Grove following stints in Alaska and Hawaii.

“We got this big house, Jeff and I, and we knew we were going to have to do some kind of business to keep it afloat,” Affinito-Semenov said. She soon heard that Backstage owner BJ Jones, who had previously employed Affinito-Semenov there, sought to retire from the business.

“Brad (Van Appel, Axe & Fiddle owner) thought that if anybody should have the bakery, it should be me,” Affinito-Semenov said. “I told him I would love to go back, but I couldn’t do it along with what I was doing at the time.”

She briefly tried to manage both businesses but soon knew she would have to concentrate on the Backstage Bakery. And she knew she would need help.

“We all had different areas of expertise,” said Jefferson Inhat, who previously managed restaurants in Hawaii. His brothers, Dominic and Alex, boasted diverse cooking expertise. They would soon add Anna Klejwa, an expert barrister of 10 years, to complete their new team.

“We’ve all worked in restaurants, so we know about doing it right,” Klejwa said. “We learned a lot working with other people, and it makes you say ‘this is how I would do it if I worked for myself.’”

Now that they work for themselves and each other, the Backstage team prides itself on fresh, local food prepared from scratch.

“The majority of the produce we get comes from Scott at the Grower’s Market,” Dominic Inhat said. “And the community has been bringing in baskets of food for us to use. This time of year is wonderful.”

Backstage Bakery makes fresh bread used for its sandwiches and all its pastries.

“Our biggest strength is that we understand that when you’re eating, you’re not just eating,” Affinito-Semenov said. “I’ve tried to teach the kids to remember the love and the work that goes into the preparation of food, and we use that love to bring people in here and serve delicious meals.”

Which isn’t to say that the constant contact created by living and working together doesn’t periodically bring on the typical squabbles, which the group says occurs as frequently as it would in any other family work situation.

“We put on a good show,” Jefferson Inhat said.

“Nobody likes to carry everything around,” Affinito-Semenov said. “It’s been an adjustment, living and working together, but we’ve worked it all out.”

“It’s fun to showcase our talents,” Alex Inhat said. “Everybody has found their niche, and there’s that feeling of working for yourself that makes it so much more fun and gives us more pride in what we do.”

The family said its sales have picked up steadily throughout the time they have managed the bakery, adding that they meet new visitors all the time who then return with their friends.

“It’s word-of-mouth in the best kind of way,” Alex Inhat said.

For the complete article see the 09-26-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-26-2012 paper.

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