susan Seiller
Restaurant legend Susan Seiller, pictured, teams up with Susan Hershberg of Wiltshire Pantry | Photo courtesy of Susan Seiller

When you’re Susan Hershberg, it’s flattering merely to have Susan Seiller frequent your business, Wiltshire Pantry Bakery & Café. But it’s positively shocking when Seiller, the longtime owner of Jack Fry’s and a Louisville restaurant legend, says in passing, “If you think you might ever have a spot for me, keep me in mind.”

Hershberg hardly believed what she heard when Seiller casually dropped that conversational nugget last fall. But she wasted no time investigating whether Seiller, most recently owner of Relish, was serious.

“She was. She meant it,” Hershberg recalls.

Most surprised she said anything at all was Seiller.

“It was serendipitous, completely spontaneous, no joke,” says Seiller. “I promise you the thought had not crossed my mind until I was parallel parking my car outside of the bakery. I could see she was there and I thought I’d just say hello. And when Susan came out, the words just fell out of my mouth. I’m not kidding. I had no notion of that idea at all.”

Susan Hershberg | Courtesy of Hershberg's Facebook page
Susan Hershberg | Photo courtesy of Hershberg’s Facebook page

Hershberg suggested they meet at Cherokee Park, where they could walk the loop and talk privately about what they might accomplish together. Seiller shared her frustration over the April 2014 closure of Relish and the obligation of paying two-and-a-half years of rent on the empty building. Though active as a restaurant consultant, she confided in Hershberg, owner of the bakery/cafe on Barret Avenue, Wiltshire Pantry (catering), and Wiltshire on Market (restaurant), that she wanted something more permanent and she might even move to Maine to find it.

Hershberg also faced a career quandary, but a good one. Though her business is 27 years old, it’s expanded rapidly in the last four years with the addition of the bakery/cafe and the NuLu restaurant. Old and new clients are constantly approaching her about larger catering opportunities, and she told Seiller that adding them was next to impossible with her current workload.

Seiller could hardly believe what she was hearing.

“When I first approached her, I was talking about the catering side of the business,” Seiller says. “I’d have been happy to help any way possible, happy to make hors d’oeuvres or whatever she needed.”

Wiltshire bakery
Wiltshire bakery

What Hershberg needed was a big-picture thinker who could offer guidance on Wiltshire’s expansion. She said her exploding small business needed more systems and procedures that would help it expand smoothly. At the very least she needed new technology, training systems and human resources guidance, knowledge Seiller has.

“I knew I couldn’t do it all myself, but Susan Seiller wants to help? Really?” Hershberg says. “This is a person who has done this before, come into an operation and revamped it. She’s hands on and able to go in and get the feel for the nuts and bolts of things.”

Seiller joined Wiltshire officially in October, taking an office space above the restaurant on Market Street. The restaurant’s private party room was in constant use during the holidays, and Seiller jumped in to help things run smoothly.

“Just to know you’ve got an experienced pair of hands and eyes to manage those details—that’s huge,” Hershberg says.

Seiller’s also immersed herself in learning about Hershberg’s businesses, seeking only to suggest and guide, not to critique.

“I can only think how great it would have been to have had a former owner help me when I was growing my business,” Seiller laughs. “But my role now is to sit in the back seat and offer my experience as a former owner. Susan has proven she’s got an amazing business, so it’s not as though things need changing. It only needs help growing.”

Seiller and Hershberg have stayed busiest focusing on larger projects for 2015 and beyond, things such as large catered events at The Henry Clay building (previously, catering rights were nearly exclusive to Silver Spoon Catering, but that’s changing this year) and moving the production at Wiltshire Bakery to the empty space at Relish this month.

“We outgrew our bakery space within a year, so we’d been looking to go elsewhere for a long time,” Hershberg says. But when she missed out on leasing another downtown space in December, she contacted Seiller.

“I said, ‘Susan, this is crazy, but what about moving the bakery to Relish?’” she recalls.

The space formerly known as Relish
The space formerly known as Relish…

Seiller admits she also missed the obvious answer — never considered it until Hershberg did.

“I’d never thought of that, which is crazy, because Relish was pretty much move-in ready for the bakery,” Seiller says. And in the course of what she called a 10-second text conversation, her rent obligation evaporated. “Amazingly, another thing just fell into place.”

The restaurant needed only some new baking-specific equipment to get started, Hershberg says, and that equipment and recipe testing will begin this weekend.

Though baked goods created there (its location is 1346 River Road) will be sold only at Wiltshire’s current bakery, a new juice bar named, simply, Juice, will begin operating there this month.

That idea came from Wiltshire employee Cameron Forrester, who would juice fruits and vegetables for herself and bring the drinks to work. When Hershberg found herself overindulging in bakery carbs, she asked Forrester to make juices for her. Eventually customers learned she was juicing, so she started doing it for the bakery. Now she’ll have her own retail counter.

“The Relish space is too big for me, but I didn’t want to do any retail there,” Hershberg said. “It’s a perfect location, too, with U of L’s (rowing team facility there), Heuser Clinic right down the road and all the people who come and go by that location.”

Hershberg said Juice is planning a soft opening on Jan. 16, but the date isn’t a certainty.

“Just follow our Twitter feed and Facebook page and we’ll update that,” she says.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.