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Baking up a business

Apr 04, 2017 12:18PM ● Published by Steven Hoffman

Gallery: Baking Up a Business [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

When Wendy Godfrey of Middletown needs a cake, she heads to Half Baked Patisserie on Main Street – especially if it’s her own.

On the afternoon of her big day, she watched as owner Tammy Nichols and baker Brittany Snyder made a fondant “Happy Birthday, Wendy” banner for a sheet cake festooned with flowers.

“I’ve been coming here since the day it opened,” Godfrey said. “I come for every birthday and holiday.” And sometimes she visits, well, just because. The array of up to 18 flavors of cupcakes, brownies and macaroons is too tempting to resist.

Tammy and her business partner, her daughter Amanda, have looked at Middletown from both sides now. In 2013, they opened Half Baked Patisserie on Main Street in downtown Middletown. In November 2016, they opened Half Baked Café in the Town of Whitehall, a master-planned community near St. Georges High School.

Downtown, Half Baked is part of the revitalization. In the suburbs, it is an innovator.

The downtown Middletown business was meant to be, Tammy said. As a child, Amanda was continually in the kitchen. “Baking came very naturally to her,” Tammy recalled.

Amanda studied the culinary arts at Middletown High School and at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Whenever she came home, the women treated themselves to lunch at E.’s on Main Street.

“We would sit in the corner by the window and talk about where she might want to open up a bakery,” Tammy said. They agreed that a location just like E.’s would be ideal.

One day in May 2012, Tammy popped into E.’s to get some soup and saw a notice on the window that the shop was closing in June. Amanda was graduating from college that same month and moving back to Delaware. “I saw it as a blessing,” said Tammy, who was going through a divorce. “It was given to us as a fresh start.” She called Amanda with the news.

Amanda, who was pregnant at the time, was initially reluctant. “This is God above, handing this to us,” Tammy told her. “This is where you sat and said you wanted to open a bakery.”

Tammy got down to work. She called friends and family for help. She scrimped and scraped to raise the necessary funds. She found old jewelry store cases in which she could display the baked goods.

In Atlanta, Amanda began saving money from the part-time jobs she held in college. She developed her recipes and kept them in a notebook. “My entire business is in that notebook,” said Amanda, who panicked on the occasion that she misplaced it.

The shop, which opened in March 2013, is a family affair in several respects. Tammy’s other daughter, 13-year-old Jailyn, helps out; and Amanda’s daughter, E’Veah, who will be 5 in August, is often in the store.

The group effort is needed, considering that Amanda also has a full-time job at Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa, where she is the executive chef. Depending on the catering and wedding cake orders, she comes in to Half Baked from about 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., before her shift at Cantwell’s. If needed, she is back at 8 p.m. It’s not unusual for her to still be there at 2 a.m. As a business, the bakery has sold goods to Cantwell’s, which caters events at the Historic Houses of Odessa.

The shop also has a baker, who is on site six days a week, and a cake decorator. Finding a skilled decorator can be challenging. “We always want to hire the best of the best,” Tammy said. That is particularly key given that last year, Half Baked did cakes for more than 100 weddings in nine months. “I want to grow that side of the business,” she said.

Jennifer Cabell Kostik, who ordered a three-tiered cake with a red velvet top layer for her wedding in October 2015, got to know Half Baked through its cupcakes, arguably the bakery’s most popular item. “The cupcakes are delicious,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, cupcake flavors in the downtown location included German chocolate, red velvet – decorated with tiny red hearts – carrot cake, the popular chocolate-salted caramel and wedding cupcakes, whose icing was studded with pearl-like beads. Vegan and gluten-free cupcakes are also available. There are even “pupcakes” for pooches.

“People want something that they can’t just find anywhere,” Tammy said. “Our cupcakes are hands-down the best in the state. It’s not just frosting and cake. When Amanda develops a recipe, she develops a complete flavor profile. If we have a Payday cupcake, when you bite into that cupcake, it’s got to be the perfect balance of peanuts, caramel, frosting and cake. Not all of them have the same amount of frosting. Most of them are filled.”

She typically has up to nine cupcake flavors at the café, which has indoor and outdoor seating. It’s the first retailer in the Town of Whitehall.

“The one and only,” Tammy said. “It was an opportunity for us to reach this side of town. The communities on this side don’t have a café for sandwiches, beverages or a hot cup of coffee, except for in the 896 area. They don’t come into the downtown area.”

Half Baked is admittedly getting in during the early stages.

“There is no question that it is a bit of chicken-and-the-egg when it comes to retail and restaurants,” said Chris Grundner, chief operating officer of the Wilmington-based Welfare Foundation, which owns the 2,000-acre property on which the Town of Whitehall sits. “Residents will be attracted to live close by businesses, but those same businesses might struggle to survive before enough residents are in place to support them. We’re committed to working both residential and retail tracks simultaneously.”

Tammy will add more items as the traffic increases.

She and Amanda have considered bringing their baked goods to farmers’ markets, but for now, they’re concentrating on making the Whitehall location as successful as the downtown site.

They’re on a mission to make Middletown just a little bit sweeter.

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