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In the bustling kitchen of Whisked, a 3-year-old company run by Jenna Hunstberger, already the cookies are cooling, quiches are in the oven, and blueberry pies are getting their crumble topping. The sun is barely up and Huntsberger is half way through her workday.
She's preparing her goods for the three farmers markets she sells at every weekend. She also runs a pie CSA, where customers can order a sweet or savory pie once a month, or even each week. This week, it's 203 6-inch pies, 13 9-inch pies and about 600 cookies.
After years working in other chefs' kitchens, Huntsberger is one of a number of up and coming bakers in the District, expanding the options to satisfy our sweet tooth.
Whisked produces a lot of products, and it isn't even her busy season. But still, making the jump from farmers market stall to brick and mortar storefront seems far off.
"I have been intimidated about going that route, it is a huge financial investment," she says. If you are going to have a $5 average ticket, you need to sell so many cookies and so many scones to make your rent. And in the place where there is a lot of density, it is very, very expensive."
She rents space at Union Kitchen, a food business incubator, and makes enough money to hire part-time employees and pay herself.
Beth Kanter, author of the book Washington, D.C. Chef's Table, says she's seeing many bakers take up this lower-risk business model.
"It makes sense that you don't jump in and lease a space for a year, but take the time and lease a small part of a kitchen," she says. "You kind of experiment and see what your customers want."
Kanter grew up in Queens, New York and laments our lack of — what she calls — red and white string bakeries. But there's no need to skip town, she says, because if it's anything like our restaurant scene, D.C.'s bakery boom is just getting started.
"I think it makes sense that the food scene would come first, and then the cocktails would follow," says Kanter. "And just like the progression of a good meal, that bakeries are following suit."
Like Whisked, Frenchies Artisan Pastries and Desserts is making its own way in the bakery scene. Frenchies, owned by baker Erica Skolnik, operates out of Seasonal Pantry, and has an ardent following at the H Street Farmers Market. Skolnik sells out of her flaky almond, chocolate, and ham and cheese croissants within just a couple hours every week.
Skolnik studied hospitality in college, went to culinary school and worked in kitchens her entire adult life. Her goal has always been to open her own neighborhood bakery, and by the end of the year, she expects to sign a lease.
A few blocks north in Bloomingdale, nestled in a strip of new restaurants and bars, Grassroots Gourmet has already set up shop.
Jamilya Smith-Canns and Sara Fatell are co-owners, and invested upwards of $150,000 in their new space. They built the kitchen from scratch, laid wood floors, and built a display case, among countless other DIY projects. They aimed to open a neighborhood bakery, the kind of place where customers drop in frequently. But from the beginning, Sara Fatell says, she knew walk-ins wouldn't pay the rent. Custom orders for weddings, holidays and parties are the bread and butter of their business.
Throughout the day, Fatell is baking while Smith-Canns runs the front of the store. Fatell cuts down on waste by using leftover batter from her custom cakes, cookies and pies to fill the display case. Opening a brick and mortar storefront is "definitely a risk," Fatell admits. "We opened this big shop with lots of bill and lots of debt, and thought 'God I hope we make it!'
They have the neighborhood bakery they dreamed of, and are making it easier than ever for Washingtonians to add a little sweetness to their lives.
[Music: "Patty Cake Patty Cake" by Bunny Berigan from Night Song]
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