By Jessie Wagoner
Josh Rice of McPherson has embraced the simple life and is reaping the rewards of following his passion.
Rice, who was raised in McPherson and graduated from McPherson High School, has a passion for baking, growing fresh food and living simply. Following his graduation from high school, Rice moved to the West Coast. While there, he was exposed to new experiences and new food. He also attended pastry school, a life-changing experience for him.
“Pastry school literally changed my life,” Rice said. “I learned so much and met so many talented people. I always knew I loved baking, but it reinforced to me that it could be my career.”
After several years on the West Coast, Rice decided it was time to come home, returning to McPherson approximately one year ago. There were plenty of adjustments to be made, but Rice was committed to one thing: he wanted to live simply and fill his days with things he is passionate about.
He started out by purchasing an RV and claiming a piece of land beside Pete’s Puddle. With a lakeside view to enjoy, he began to cultivate a garden. Rice spent hours each day planting vegetable and flower plants, caring for them throughout the blistering summer heat. Now his hard work is paying off in bounties of beautiful, fresh produce.
“This is all from my garden,” Rice said. “My chicken eggs, my tomatoes, my lettuce. It is great to have fresh food, but it is also about sustainability.”
For Rice, the fresh food is a reward for his efforts, but he also values being able to reduce his footprint on the Earth and do his part to be sustainable. He has also partnered with other local producers to find fresh items to use in his baking. Fresh peaches, fresh raspberries and plenty of apples are often incorporated into his treats.
When Rice moved home, he knew he wanted baking to be his main source of income, but he wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. Opening a store front wasn’t in the cards after the heavy expense of a cross-country move.
“My life is a series of coincidences,” Rice said. “Shortly after I moved, I was asked about selling my items at Elizabeth Street Treasures Flea Market. People really liked the cinnamon rolls I made, so I started with those.”
Rusty Lantern Bakery and Cafe – Fresh, Local, Sustainable was launched, and Rice hasn’t looked back since. Cinnamon rolls were the beginning and have become a favorite among Rice’s customers. Over time, Rice has introduced his customers to his peach and apple pies, mixed berry crumbles, caramel apple rolls, brownies with ganache and an assortment of other treats. In addition to the flea market, Rice is also taking custom orders and regularly making deliveries to customers throughout McPherson County.
“People have been very supportive and encouraging,” Rice said. “I love when they request special items and I can create something just for them.”
Though the current setup is working well for Rice, he still dreams of more. He would one day like to have his own location, possibly a dessert and wine bar, which are fairly common on the West Coast. To make that dream happen, Rice said it will take help from an investor, but he isn’t willing to put the idea on the back burner yet, remaining optimistic that someone may want to partner in the endeavor in the future.
Partnering with others is something Rice finds second nature. Whether it is partnering with local producers or area businesses, he is always looking for a opportunity that would be beneficial for all involved. Most recently, he partnered with Di Griffis, owner of Ristorante Italiano di Famiglia in McPherson.
Griffis, who is currently purchasing the building her restaurant is housed in, has faced the many struggles familiar to restaurant owners impacted by COVID-19. In addition to desperately seeking staff for the restaurant, she was also looking for a creative way to utilize her building space when the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
“We are in the process of getting her kitchen relicensed so I can use it for baking when she is closed on Sunday and Monday,” Rice said. “It is a good partnership for both of us. I need a commercial kitchen, and she still has bills to pay when she is closed on Sunday and Monday. Even though she is closed, she still has utility bills to pay. So this benefits us both.”
Beginning this week, Rice will also be providing desserts for the guests at Ristorante Italiano di Famiglia. He plans to have a couple of special desserts available each week for guests to choose from.
In the long run, Rice would like to offer a pop-up-style brunch in the restaurant space on Sundays. This is a long-term goal, which will take some additional planning, but he is hopeful he will be able to begin doing so by the holidays.
“I’ve had several local business owners reach out to me and be supportive, like Di and Chad Mock from Pink Flamingo, and it means so much,” Rice said. “It is nice to feel that support from other business owners. We are creating that thriving community of McPherson that we all love. We kind of feel like we have lost that sense of community togetherness in the last year, and now is our time to figure out how we can do that again.”
The Rusty Lantern Bakery and Cafe takes special orders. To place an order, email Rice directly at RustyLanternBakery@gmail.com.