Mar. 27—WATERTOWN — City Police Officer Eric McLane walks into his buddy's new shop and immediately starts giving it to him, telling him his apron is slimming and asking for the permit to operate Starch, the new bakery on State Street that's getting a lot of buzz around town.
Chuck Bates and his wife, Lynne, turned his tattoo shop into a bakery and coffee joint and opened it last week. There was a line out the door and it's been a consistent mad house ever since. It feels like the married couple hasn't gotten a break until five days after they opened, when they found a slight break one afternoon this week. The open sign out front of their location at 320 State St. wasn't working, but that hardly bothered Mr. Bates as it was nice to see a consistent flow of customers instead of chaos.
"It was nonstop," he said. "You couldn't even breathe in here there were so many people."
They have hedged almost everything on Mrs. Bates' baking ability. She is bringing years of flavor she learned from growing up with her family in the Bronx and has instilled it into a menu that changes every day. Customers might find a vanilla bean sprinkle scone, Nutella stuffed peanut butter cookies, muffins and cookies that somehow look like they were dunked in a vat of the M&Ms. The coffee, which they offer extensively but almost feel like it's only there to complement the main-event treats, is no slouch either.
"This is the best caramel latte I've ever had," a customer yells at Mr. Bates across the shop.
Officer McLane, who's known Mr. Bates for 20 years, got the classic chocolate chip cookie and iced tea. He took a seat in one of the booths and looked around. Mr. Bates, a Watertown native, has localized the entire shop, from old Jefferson County Fair posters to salvaged wood that was actually part of Boldt Castle. There's even old Watertown memorabilia dating back to 1910.
"There are other coffee shops in the area, but they might not have the atmosphere like this one," said Mr. McLane, biting into his cookie. "That's so good. 'Chuck, you married a winner.'"
Terry Burns and her neighbor, Karen Hamic, walked down to Starch from Indiana Avenue and were relieved when they walked in. They said they often have to go to Chrissy Beans in Sackets Harbor for a savory and high-end treat, but now it's just a few blocks away.
"My son and his wife actually found this place on Saturday and we're all big coffee lovers in our family so he goes 'Mom you've got to try this place,' so that's why we walked down today," Mrs. Burns said. "And it is very good. I hope they do well."
Mrs. Hamic took a sip of her coffee and relished that a shop like Starch is more than just the menu.
"It's not just about coffee. It's about going to a place and having a cup of coffee and enjoying yourself," Mrs. Hamic said. "I'd give it a 10 out of 10, definitely."
Mr. Bates, who owns the building and has eight apartment units in it and his tattoo shop relocated around the corner, has been renovating it slowly for seven years.
"This is all really my wife," he said. "I'm just here doing the grunt work. I'm an employee and she's my boss."
And there are a few differences between running a tattoo shop and a bakery.
"With tattoos, people know what they're going to get," he said. "But I can make a caramel latte and each one can be a little different. So they know what they're getting but they don't at the same time. Plus, with the treats, they're buying with their eyes."
But it all comes down to Mrs. Bates. Her attention to detail, care and nonstop work she has put in to make a shop that's dependent on scones and cookies and muffins, works.
"It's just like anything, she cares," Mr. Bates said. "I mean you should see her arms. They're covered in burns. It's not like she's doing this to make a million dollars. She's doing it because she loves to bake."