KANSAS CITY, MO — When the doors of Messenger Coffee Co. + Ibis Bakery opened in 2017 in the heart of Kansas City’s Crossroads district, the owners decided to resurrect Cheese Slipper Night, an event previously hosted by Fervere Bakery and Bread Studio. What may sound to some like a weird shoe party, is actually a popular KC bread tradition.
Cheese slipper is a play on words — ciabatta, the base bread of the product, means slipper in Italian. Fred Spompinato, the previous owner of Fervere and co-founder of Farm to Market Bread Co., baked up the idea in 2012, combining his house-made ciabatta dough, a variety of cheeses, and local seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The origin of Cheese Slipper Night started when Fervere sold just the ciabatta bread with cheese mixed in as a pastry. The bread company held pop-up events where people could top their slippers with simple ingredients, such as farm-fresh eggs and heirloom tomatoes, and bake them in the woodfired oven. Over time, the pop-ups developed into a BYOT (bring your own toppings) community event where people would bring their own ingredients to customize their Cheese Slippers.
When Fred retired, Chris and Kate Matsch, founders of Ibis Bakery, purchased Fervere from him. After the Marschs opened Ibis, they wanted to keep the Cheese Slipper Night tradition alive.
The prep work that goes into producing a Cheese Slipper Night, which is typically hosted during First Fridays, a community event held throughout the warmer months in Kansas City, starts a week prior. That’s when Crum’s Heirlooms, a vendor located in Bonnor Springs, KS, delivers the toppings to Messenger Coffee Co.
When Fred started Cheese Slipper Night at Fervere, it was very important to him to work with local farmers. The Ibis bread department remains an advocate for this standard, working with as many local vendors as possible to create new flavor offerings.
Planning an event around seasonal fruits and vegetables means the flavor pairing depends on what the farmers can deliver, creating a unique challenge for the Ibis team.
“I think there was one week where we thought we were going to get lettuce, and then they had a bunch of deer in the field … so we didn’t get lettuce,” said Javier Nunez, bread manager for Messenger Coffee Co. “[The menu lineup] can change and we have to pivot, but we are usually pretty good at making it work.”
Stitching together fruits and vegetables to create the menu is like a puzzle, aligning flavor profiles like jigsaw pieces to create a unique flavor experience.
“When we are on the truck, we are looking at what he has, and then that’s how we build the flavors we’re going to run for that week,” Javier explained.
After the menu is set, the real setup begins. Mixing, prepping and cutting begins 48 hours before the event. Topping and baking the Cheese Slippers occurs two hours before customers arrive to lock in the freshness and flavor of the pastry. It takes a team of five to seven people working over two days to create the 80 cheese slippers needed for the event.
When customers come into Messenger Coffee Co. on First Fridays to pick out their cheese slippers, they are greeted with the aroma of the savory breads. There are always two varieties of cheese slipper — meat and vegetarian — along with either a side option or dessert. Previous flavor combinations have included cider gravy, apple cider chicken, Brussel sprouts and apple, topped with mozzarella, parsley and mustard cream sauce and creamy ranch; and BBQ sweet potatoes and green beans, topped with mozzarella, jalapeño cornbread crumbles and BBQ sauce.
Though the monthly event will come to a close soon, planning for 2024 Cheese Slipper Nights has already begun with ways to improve the overall experience for customers. Moving forward, the bakery aims to continue to find more ways to make it a community event for people of all ages to attend. Cheese Slipper Night has become a beloved tradition Kansas Citians look forward to during the summer and a great way to bring the community together through local flavors.