Kora Polydore has been baking since her parents got her an Easy-Bake Oven when she was 5. She began baking as a hobby, watching her grandmother cook in the kitchen and run small cafes in the Midwest. Then she sold baked goods to help pay for school, before deciding to teach herself and open her own small business, Polydore said.
Now operating in the Paradise community of Catonsville, Kora Lee’s Gourmet Dessert Café rolls Polydore’s culinary services, previously scattered around the Baltimore region, into one location. From her new spot at 6421 Frederick Road, previously occupied by Whimsy Cakes, Polydore will serve up entrees and desserts crafted with her own flair, and all made from scratch, she said.
Kora Lee’s has relocated to various areas over the past 14 years, including Woodlawn, Baltimore’s Mt. Washington neighborhood and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Polydore moved from her Howard Street shop due to safety concerns, a lack of police response to reported incidents and issues with the property manager, she said.
“We love where we are [now,]” Polydore said. It’s a smaller space, but “we just feel like it’s a little freer ... to serve our customers.”
The Aurora, Colorado native said her creations “definitely don’t follow the trend.”
“You will very rarely — and I mean like, rarely — see strawberry crunch or something like that in our store,” she said. “We take the trend and flip it into something that definitely no one else is doing.”
Those who visit Kora Lee’s can select from an ever-changing menu of sandwiches — made on Polydore’s “bubble bread,” created with a waffle maker and at the request of the customer, filled with cheese, green onion, sun-dried tomato, or other toppings —soups, salads or “hardier items,” Polydore said.
Her catering menu accounts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ranging from bagels to fettuccine marinara, from pesto shrimp sandwiches to buttermilk fried chicken. In the winter, Polydore is offering “comfort food,” she said, with seasonal porridges, stewed meats and veggies, along with vegan and vegetarian options delivered year-round.
Her bakery is stocked with a wide variety of cakes, pies, cookies, muffins, bread puddings, tarts, doughnuts and what Polydore calls “sippin’ sweets,” or desserts infused with liquor, available to customers 21 and older.
“They’re not gonna make you drunk, but you definitely know there’s that aftertaste of alcohol in them,” Polydore said.
Polydore, 45, considers baking an artistic medium and seeks always to “elevate this to the next level,” she said.
Watching her grandmother cook “and knowing that she had small cafes and would feed people in her neighborhood, it really just made me realize you can reach a lot of people with food,” Polydore said. “You can help a lot of people with food. You can be creative with food.”
An avid reader, Polydore said she draws inspiration from cookbooks — “probably thousands” of them. She goes to markets, buys new ingredients and experiments.
Her “everything cookie,” a top-selling recipe Polydore keeps secret, was inspired by a candy Polydore purchased from Whole Foods, she said. She describes it as “crunchy, chewy, a little chocolate-y, sweet and salty … it hits all the senses.”
“We’ve had [other bakeries] try to duplicate it,” she said, but “it’s never gonna be the same.”
Polydore vowed customers “may not find the same dessert in there from week to week,” but “when you come into our store, dessert-wise, you’re gonna always find something new.”
With Kora Lee’s only recently opening her doors this month, she’s still looking to hire three or four more employees to help in the kitchen. Polydore is currently shouldering the baking and catering requests herself.