​Toledo native serves up ‘Comfort Food with a Twist’

Cynthia Kallile, chief meatloaf maker at The Meatloaf Bakery.
Cynthia Kallile, chief meatloaf maker at The Meatloaf Bakery.

Three hundred fifteen million people in the United States, and only one had the brilliantly insane idea to bake meatloaf that looks like cupcakes.

Toledo native Cynthia Kallile had a successful career for 25 years in corporate communications and public relations in Chicago. But after a quarter-century of that, she was ready to try something new.

“I had started to formulate this idea,” she said recently on the phone from her home in Chicago. “I knew that cupcakes are very hot and trendy. But I knew I wasn’t a baker. I liked to cook, so I decided, well, why not take one concept [and add another]?

“Meatloaf, to me, represents how I like to cook. I said, ‘Let’s throw in cupcakes.’”

It was one of those ideas that was just crazy enough to work. Four years ago, she opened The Meatloaf Bakery in Chicago’s desirable Lincoln Park neighborhood, and she was back in Toledo last week to sign copies of her first cookbook, The Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook: Comfort Food with a Twist.

Success came with a concept that was utterly unique: “I realized that meatloaf, in and of itself, is not very attractive. So I thought, ‘why not make it look like a cupcake?’ So I threw some potatoes on top, like frosting.”

The small store has been earning raves, but some people still walk in thinking they can get an actual cupcake. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the interior is decorated just like a bakery, Ms. Kallile said, and that they now also serve miniature meatloaves on a stick that resemble cake pops and larger versions that look like pastries.

“What I love is when people walk in the store and see it for the first time and comment on it. I get a kick out of that. I really, really do,” the 56-year-old businesswoman said.

When she first opened The Meatloaf Bakery she had just nine recipes that had gone through a tasting test of fire with her friends, some of whom were fairly brutal, she said. Now she has a rotating list of about 30 recipes that she features at different times.

A Wing and a Prayer Loaf is one of her favorites; it is made from ground chicken, with spices and a blue cheese crumb topping that makes it taste like Buffalo wings. She is also fond of Lamb-A-Licious, a lamb-based loaf with Mediterranean seasonings (rosemary, olives, Feta cheese, fresh mint) that pay tribute to her Lebanese heritage.

The biggest seller is and always has been The Mother Loaf, which was her mother’s original recipe — though as Ms. Kallile points out, “she didn’t put mashed potatoes on the top.” This is the meatloaf that her mother used to send to her when she was a student at Ohio State University and afterwards.

Her mother, Helen, died in July at age 89. “She was just a wonderful cook and she entertained a lot. I probably got my knack for cooking without recipes from her,” Ms. Kallile said.

Part of the fun of running the business has been coming up with the amusing names for her cupcake concoctions. The Dog Gone It Loaf looks and tastes like a Chicago-style hot dog; Chili Chili Bang Bang has the flavor of chili; and the Chicken Shish Kaloaf tastes like a kabob but looks like a cupcake.

One day, she was trying to make the No Buns About it Burger Loaf, which tastes like a bread-less cheeseburger, and she accidentally left out the bacon and the onion. She did not want to throw it out because she makes it in 10-pound batches, so she added some Tabasco sauce to it and some barbecue sauce, “and came up with a pretty decent seller.”

The problem was, no one could think of a name for it. So she just decided to call it Number 641. The number was chosen because it sounded good.

The Meatloaf Bakery is still a small business, though Ms. Kallile is looking for ways to expand. They recently began using a food truck called Meatloaf-a-Go-Go, and they have been involved in more catering, including three weddings. For one, she said, “We actually made a wedding cake out of meatloaf, which was quite the feat.”

Meanwhile, some other companies are trying to encroach on her ideas. Not only did Whole Foods grocery stores begin making meatloaf cupcakes, they started using her names. “I was disappointed by that,” she said, and began to trademark some of the names. Whole Foods has now discontinued the practice.

Ms. Kallile’s sister, Olivia Summonds, and brother, Philip Kallile, still live in Toledo. Olivia’s son, John, lends his expertise with ideas for the bakery and names for the meatloaves. She calls him her muse.

Ms. Kallile has received raves from the Michelin Guide to Chicago Restaurants and Food & Wine magazine, but true success comes from your hometown. She is a 1974 graduate of Roy C. Start High School. This past spring, she was inducted into the Start High School Hall of Fame.

Clearly, that is the frosting on the meatloaf.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.