GNAW BONE — “This place sure has changed a lot,” said the first customer through Jenny Morrison’s door last Wednesday morning.
Morrison laughed. That’s what so many locals and visitors have said when they’ve come inside the new Gnaw Bone Bakery and Country Store, which they knew for decades as the Gnaw Bone Sorghum Mill.
From the road, it doesn’t look so different. You can still weave through log furniture and antiques to get to the front door.
But inside, everything is fresh, from the native timber on the walls to the smells wafting from the kitchen.
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Jenny Morrison, husband Jay and adult children Chloe and Alex spent about six months cleaning, remodeling and redoing plumbing in the 1,500-square-foot building.
The Morrison family and the Mike and Tammy Riebl family bought it from Bill Watkins late last year. They’d originally inquired about getting a piece of the property so Mike and Jay could build a business manufacturing portable camping cabins, Jenny said.
However, Watkins wanted to sell the whole thing, including the old mill and a cabin next door, so Jay’s and Jenny’s dreams both came true.
“It’s something I always wanted to do, as far as opening up a bakery, but I never dreamed it would be all this, right?” she said, gesturing to the large space filled with artisan goods. “So the opportunity kind of fell in my lap, because otherwise, I don’t know if I would have pushed myself.”
Orange ‘70s carpet was replaced with sleek, stained concrete. Helmsburg Sawmill lumber brightens the formerly paneled walls, and salvaged metal roofing hangs overhead.
When the families were still “knee-deep in boards and nails,” customers were coming in looking for the baked apple butter the Robertses used to make and sell at the mill. Jenny knew she had to keep carrying it, so they bought that familiar line of jelly and jam products as well.
But the real centerpiece of the store is Morrison’s baked goods.
Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, sugar cream pies, crumb-top banana muffins, nut-topped brownies — all are made in small batches with high-quality organic ingredients whenever possible. Her blueberry scones have been particularly popular; she plans to start selling breads soon, too.
She also offers at least two kinds of sorghum-based treats as a nod to the building’s history. This day, there were sprinkle-topped sorghum cookies and a variety with apple chips baked in.
For decades, the Roberts family pressed and cooked sorghum — a syrup similar to molasses — at the mill using a wood-fired stove. It still stood in the kitchen, but it was no longer functional, so they removed it, Jenny said. She plans to put up some sort of placard about the history of the place.
“I really wanted to showcase Gnaw Bone, so I’ve got the Gnaw Bone T-shirts and sweatshirts,” she said.
The store still sells the cedar furniture pieces Watkins had. They’re out on the porch, same as before. But inside, most of the goods come from Indiana Artisans and local craftspeople — rugs from Chris Gustin, pottery from Ben Harpring, syrups from Hoosier Sugar Daddy, coffee beans from Brown County Coffee.
Some of those artists were Morrison’s clients when she ran a cleaning business. Soap maker Christina McGinley is Morrison’s insurance agent. Even her mom has work for sale.
“Almost everything in here is from someone that I know well,” she said.
That local, homey, welcoming feeling is one she wants to push further as the business evolves.
For now, she’s selling to-go treats and coffee to stay within state rules. But eventually, she’s thinking about opening early to catch commuters on State Road 46, and about creating a gathering space for locals to claim.
“The word is spreading. … I think everybody’s curious,” she said. “I’ve had a few repeat customers coming back, and that makes me feel really good.
In a community bisected by a major Indiana highway, she believes this is the kind of place that Gnaw Bone needs. A few neighbors have stopped in to check it out and she’d like to meet more, she said.
“I want the locals. I mean, how many of us have said that we’d been in here once and not again. So I want that to change. I don’t want to just appeal to the tourists; I want to make locals feel like it’s part of their home and they can hang out.
“I think we need social spaces to interact — that sense of community.”