Small home-based bakeries selling everything from sourdough bread to mochi cakes have sprung up around Clark County.
Some of these micro-businesses took root when Washington passed the Cottage Food Operations Law in 2011. This law allows small-business owners to sell certain types of baked goods made in their home kitchens.
The pandemic spawned another wave of microbakeries. When schools and workplaces shut down, many people turned to their kitchens for solace. Some sold treats to friends and family using social media sites and pay apps.
Then they discovered that Washington’s liberal home-baking law allowed them to turn their passion into profit.
Julie Huffman was an early adopter of the home-business model. She started her bakery, Bakerchic’s, in 2013 just as the Washington State Department of Agriculture began implementing the Cottage Food Operations Law.
“I’ve always enjoyed baking. Then I took a couple daylong classes at Sur La Table around 2008,” she said. “They were doing baguettes, and the bug just bit.”
Huffman went on to attend the Grain Gathering at Washington State University’s Breadlab in Mount Vernon. She also took a number of weeklong classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Bakerchic’s sourdough bread, baguettes, cinnamon rolls, blueberry scones and other baked goods are sold at the Ridgefield Farmers Market during the season. This month, she’s been setting up at Confluence Vineyards and Winery in Ridgefield on Saturdays. Prices range from $2.50 for a baguette to $5.50 for olive levain.
Huffman also has a community-supported bakery program. Customers pay a weekly rate to get bread and pastries delivered to their home or office. Bakerchic’s products are also available to Community Supported Agriculture members through April Joy Farm and Full Plate Farm.
Huffman mills all of her whole grains and uses them within 24 hours of being processed.
“The flavor that comes out of freshly milled grains is huge,” she said.
In addition, she likes being able to adjust the grains to be finer or coarser for her baked goods.
Another flavor enhancer is Huffman’s sourdough starter made with 100 percent whole rye. This whole grain provides lots of nutrients for the starter, which gives the bread a unique flavor and texture.
The pandemic pushed Elizabeth Sebastian of Little Miss Baketress to start her sourdough roll and mochi cake business. As the mother of a newborn premature baby, Sebastian decided that her job as a nanny was no longer safe for her family. She always enjoyed baking but found herself making more sourdough while home with her son. She gave bread to friends and family and used the Nextdoor app to find other takers.
Based on the positive response, Sebastian rented booths at the farmers markets in east Vancouver and Salmon Creek. She narrowed her focus to sourdough rolls in flavors ranging from plain sourdough to cheddar jalapeno ($4 each, $10-$20 for a box) and Hawaiian butter mochi cakes ($10-$20 for a box). The cakes come as minis or squares in classic butter, cocoa and matcha flavors.
Sebastian wasn’t sure how people would respond to her mochi cakes, a popular dessert in Hawaii not often found in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, COVID-19 regulations banned giving samples. Nonetheless, Sebastian’s husband, Brett, encouraged her to sell them because they’re delicious.
“I’m blown away by how people are willing to try it. I’ve found that at the farmers market, people are willing to try new things,” she said.
Sebastian’s cakes have another unique ingredient: eggs from her own backyard chickens. She raises 12 chickens in her backyard, a new hobby that has amused her friends back home in Las Vegas.
“Everyone from Las Vegas was like, ‘You are really embracing the Pacific Northwest,’ ” she said.
Diana Rose, a social media marketing expert, helped Sebastian create her fox logo (based on her two foxlike Shiba Inus at home) and get her Facebook and Instagram accounts set up.
Facebook and Instagram (@littlemissbaketress) are the best way to keep up with Little Miss Baketress’ farmers market days, pop-ups and monthly sales at the Vancouver Night Market. She also sells directly through Instagram.
The pandemic nudged Kalina Pence into starting her own business, Chocolate + Flour Bakery. Pence earned a baking and pastry degree from the Oregon Culinary Institute. She then trained and was later offered a job at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, Calif.
Landing a job at such a competitive and prestigious place made Pence recognize her talent.
Pence then worked at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where she learned the best techniques from a rotating list of top pastry chefs.
“The style was super cool, super creative. Nothing can be the same all year,” she said.
Pence stopped working in commercial kitchens when she discovered that she had a tree nut allergy. She took baking orders from family and friends and became a barista.
In March 2020, when the pandemic hit, Pence lost her job, and her daughter was home attending school virtually. She decided to open her own baking business by applying for a business license and creating a website to sell her baked goods. In July 2020, she launched her new business, which offers elaborately decorated creations ($45 for a small 4-by-4-inch cake and $95 for a large 8-by-6-inch cake).
Chocolate + Flour products are sold at a cake pop-up every second Sunday at Seasons Coffee in the Old Liberty Theater in downtown Ridgefield. Pence offers two seasonal flavors of cake sold by the slice. Cake flavors are announced ahead of time on Facebook (@chocolateandflour) and Instagram (@chocolate_and_flour). Past cake options include pumpkin spice, berry cobbler, and chocolate and dulce de leche.
Custom cakes, cookies, brownies, custom chocolate bonbons, scones, truffles and other assorted goodies can be ordered through the Chocolate + Flour website (chocolateandflour.com). The mystery box filled with a carefully picked mix of goodies is one of Pence’s bestsellers.
Pence is pleased by the success of her business and is enjoying the freedom of working for herself.
“After leaving the industry and working in kitchens, I prefer it this way,” she said.
Rachel Pinsky: email@example.com