Freemans dedicate talent to uplifting Downtown Springfield restaurant scene

Fans of Lisa Freeman’s pastries might see the art, but she also knows the science.

Lisa, the executive chef behind the delights at Le Torte Dolci and the three other shops owned by her and her husband, Dan, says it is a passion of hers to understand how different ingredients come together to create the highest quality baked goods.

“We seem to be in an age where the science of baking is really not a common thing anymore,” Lisa says.

The Springfield Township couple has found success with their techniques. Le Torte Dolci bakery just celebrated its fifth anniversary after opening on North Fountain Avenue in 2018. Later that year Salato Deli launched next door.

In 2020 they started artisan pizza shop Crust & Company, located inside COhatch Springfield - The Market – also the location of Ironworks Waffle Cafe, which they purchased earlier this year.

The concepts have a European touch and a common aim to encourage local residents to try new items and flavors, which Lisa says are made with love and driven by passion.

“I love the challenge of pushing people’s envelope just a little,” she says.

Lisa’s love of baking dates back decades, when she looked forward to the smiles on classmates’ faces as she shared her goods in elementary school. While traveling, Lisa, 46, and Dan, 48, enjoyed seeing how others ate and enjoyed their food, particularly in Europe. Meals were a time to gather, with good food and drink bringing people together in a relaxed way, she says.

For most of the Freeman’s married life, Lisa was a stay-at-home mom to their two daughters. But as they grew, so too did her dreams of opening a small bakery. Baking for fundraisers and school events turned to thoughts of offering Springfield a taste of what they had encountered in their travels.

Local businesses offered items like cakes and cupcakes, but that’s not what the Freemans had in mind.

“If we were going to do this, we were going to do it different,” Dan says.

But would Springfielders pay a couple of bucks for a macaron or care about the freshness of a croissant? They tested the market by offering Lisa’s baked goods as a Springfield Farmers Market vendor and found the answer to be yes.

“When it took up every room in our house, we decided we needed to find a permanent place for this to happen or call it quits,” Lisa says.

Those first step became Le Torte Dolci, and the original idea has grown to include the four concepts under the new Amichi Collective umbrella brand. While the Freemans operate each of the four, they have felt like distinct businesses.

“We hear it all the time: ‘I didn’t know you owned Crust,’ or ‘You guys own the bakery?’” Dan says.

The umbrella brand allows for some versatility, flexibility and unity, such as giving customers the ability to purchase gift cards that can be redeemed at multiple storefronts.

The Freemans grew up in Maine. While Lisa also attended college there, Dan headed to Ohio to attend what was then Cedarville College - now Cedarville University. They decided to plant roots in the area and will have been married 25 years this summer. They have two daughters, ages 18 and 16.

When it comes to running their business, Dan’s IT background complements Lisa’s skill in the kitchen. And while they miss the mountains, the ocean and their family who still lives in Maine, they are devoted to their new home, Lisa says.

In fact, they wanted their bakery to be a part of the burgeoning Downtown Springfield.

“When we started the business, we were pretty much set on doing it Downtown,” Dan says.  

At the time that Le Torte Dolci opened its doors, only a few businesses were there, like Mother Stewart’s Brewing and Winans Chocolates & Coffees, he says. Since then, it has snowballed.

It was important to them to help revitalize the Downtown area, but the location also made sense for what they wanted to achieve, Lisa says. The social, relaxed environment they were trying to replicate from Europe works Downtown.

“It’s not the hustle and bustle of someplace like Bechtle (Avenue),” she says.

Lisa is proud of what they have created in such a short time, especially considering the high closure rate of new businesses.

“I like that we’ve created something that not only Springfield likes, but also people like to work at,” Dan adds, noting that they started the bakery alone and now employ about 30 people total among their four locations.

Lisa, who arrives at the bakery around 3 a.m. to start proofing dough for items like monkey bread and sticky rolls, makes items from scratch, right down to the jam, she says. The self-taught pastry chef says she didn’t grow up learning the fundamentals but has learned through research, trial and error.

The Freemans have introduced many of the things they love to Springfield, but they also adjust their menu to customers’ wants and expectations. For example, they bridge the gap to Roman-style pizza by adding New York-style pizza to the offerings at Crust & Company.

However, they pay close attention to their ingredients, using things like imported chocolate and European butter for their taste, smell, texture and richness.

The fourth and most recent addition to the Amichi Collective is Ironworks Waffle Cafe. The shop is Crust & Company’s neighbor inside of COhatch and was founded by Marcy Nesselroade and Ellie Morgan. When the mother-daughter team was looking for a buyer for the restaurant, the Freemans decided they were interested. The purchase was completed in April.

“It was really a natural fit,” says Lisa, who hopes to continue to make Nesselroade and Morgan proud of what they created.

The Freemans won’t stop at four, Dan says, and long term they plan to expand outside of Springfield. Lisa says they are both entrepreneurs, but her true love is baked goods.

“I love that we still use the same practices today that they did when it was created,” she says.
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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.