Thursday Profile: From boot camp to cupcakes

cupcake-crop
Photo by Madeline McMahon.

A fitness instructor at Payne Whitney Gym since 2003, Kathy Riegelmann opened a cupcake store called Katalina’s Bakery on Whitney Avenue two weeks ago.

Though cupcakes and gym class may seem contradictory, Riegelmann says that — with natural ingredients and controlled portions — cupcakes can be part of a healthy lifestyle. After all, she said, “Everybody likes cupcakes.”

A believer in a balance of sweat and sweet, Riegelmann shares her talents for both baking and exercise through teaching.

Rigelmann had volunteered at an inner-city school in New Haven during high school, and decided she wanted to pursue teaching further in college. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary and secondary education and, although she never became a kindergarten teacher as she had originally intended, much of her life still centers around teaching others.

In addition to offering fitness classes, Riegelmann has taught cooking classes in the past and said she hopes to launch cooking lessons at the bakery soon. She also teaches classes twice a week to fifth and sixth grade students at inner-city middle schools about easily accessible fitness and healthy eating habits.

SEEKING SMILES

Whether baking at her cupcake shop or teaching gym classes, Riegelmann’s goal has always been to please the customer. Bringing smiles to the people who enter the new cupcake store, employee Brian Maroney said, simply requires that people walk inside because they are excited about the cupcake they are about to eat.

“No one really comes in here angry,” Maroney said. “It’s not your typical place where people are zombies until they have their amazing latte.”

Riegelmann started baking when she opened her first coffee shop, Koffee?, on Audubon Street in the early 1990s with help from a woman she had taught in her aerobics class.

Although Riegelmann had no business experience, she thought the idea sounded like fun. At the time, she said only two coffee shops were operating in downtown New Haven. While her Koffee? partner mostly took care of the business end, Riegelmann assumed the role of providing baked goods because she thought they would help draw customers.

“I figured if we were going to have a coffee shop we needed baked goods that people could smell when they came in,” she said.

Ever since, Riegelmann has been especially taken to baking cupcakes, which she said allow people to “indulge in a little something, so it’s not completely sinful.”

Five years ago, the Foote School — where her son attended elementary and middle school — hired Riegelmann to teach a baking class. Although she left the school this year to open Katalina’s, Riegelmann said the next step for her bakery is to offer cooking classes for children as well as adults, hopefully on a weekly basis.

“There’s something really magical about watching kindergartners licking the batter, their eyes opening wide, and eating what they just made,” she said. “Having them all run up to you and saying, ‘There’s my baking teacher!’ and giving you a hug is just priceless.”

She added that she hopes to use the shop as an event space for cooking parties.

But Riegelmann does not just want people around her to be smiling, she also wants to help them grow.

Though she leads Pilates classes and personal trains on the side, Riegelmann said her favorite class to teach is boot camp. Twice a week, Riegelmann’s day begins at 6:30 a.m. with her boot camp class at Payne Whitney Gym. About 20 adults and Yale students gather, prepared for an hour of stairs, pushups, planks and crunches.

“I just like challenging people and seeing them achieve whatever I throw at them,” she said, adding that her students could always grab a cupcake after.

Her talent for fitness shines through while motivating participants to work harder, said Jill Goldstein GRD ’14, who has been taking Riegelmann’s boot camp class every week since September.

“She’s really motivated and that’s contagious,” she said. “She’s funny and just pushes us to be better.”

HEALTHY HABITS

A single mother, Riegelmann said that she opened Katalina’s because she also wanted to challenge herself.

Her niece, Erica Riegelmann, is also an employee at Katalina’s Bakery. She said that her aunt has been building toward opening her own bakery for some time, putting “a lot of effort and patience into the place.”

“[Kathy’s] energetic and good with people and speaking, and these skills work well with everything,” she said. “She’s one of those people who’s vibrant when you talk to her.”

Yale’s Director of State Communications and Special Initiatives, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, who was present for the store’s opening, said in an email that Riegelmann is “as solid and tough as they come.”

Riegelmann said she hopes to promote her healthy habits throughout the city of New Haven by educating middle school students about workout routines and easy, healthy recipes through the University of Connecticut extension program. She added that many customers have approached her about taking baking lessons at the store.

She visits both the St. Martin de Porres Academy and John S. Martinez School once a week, and said she is proud of the relationships she has developed with the children after having taken part in the program for the past two years.

“They’re excited to share when they choose something healthy to eat or do a certain exercise over the weekend,” she said.

This experience calls to mind her days volunteering in New Haven Public Schools in High School, she said, when she noted the kindergartners she taught had already been labeled “failures” by society.

Still, she continued, “they hadn’t made it out of the kindergarten classroom … I wanted to change that.”

Riegelmann does continue to work in the public school system twice a week, but she also sees many students after school for the afternoon cupcake rush.

Around 4 p.m., children rush into Katalina’s Bakery, and smiles spread across their faces as Riegelmann patiently helps them pick out their cupcakes, offering suggestions and samples.

“I got the red velvet,” said Esther O’Shea, a third grader at Cold Spring School in New Haven. “I like cupcakes a lot, I guess because of the shape … They’re smaller and make me feel happy.”

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