COLUMBIA, SC — A few years ago, Mark and Angie Lowery had come home from a trip to Europe, craving good bread.
Not finding many options in Columbia, they started learning how to make small batches of artisan breads before opening Crust Bakehouse on Rosewood Drive a year and a half ago.
Last week, loyal customers dropped in for brown paper bags of warm bread, fresh out of the oven that Mark Lowery was tending.
“It’s so fresh – like, literally out of the oven in the morning,” said Katharine Presty, who went home with scones and a loaf of olive and multigrain bread.
“My daughters claim their muffins are the best they’ve ever had, so I don’t even bother making them anymore.”
Columbia, bereft of bake shops just a couple of years ago, now has a rich variety.
Entrepreneurs have stepped in to the market, baking aromatic breads and tempting sweets, made from scratch and displayed in glass-front cases.
Joel Reynolds, who teaches in USC’s hospitality program, attributes the increase in downtown bakeries to the farm-to-table movement. Increasingly, he said, folks are willing to make the effort to support homegrown businesses to satisfy their desire for fresh, local food.
“These local bakeries are not only going to have a local product,” Reynolds said, “but they’re going to have a much higher quality.”
In the past two to three years, bakers saw an opening in the Columbia market and decided to act on their dreams of opening a business – doing something they love.
Harriet Rice, who just opened a wholesale chocolate shop catering to restaurants and bakeries, said she’s been “stunned” by the number of new businesses she’s discovered.
“Honestly, I think there’s an uptick in women going into business for themselves, and a lot of that involves food.”
Dana Myers, who said she picked up baking secrets from her mother and grandmother, has made cakes for a living since 2001.
Three years ago, when her mom retired, the two of them decided to go into business together. They found a house on North Main Street that fit their needs, bringing in other relatives to work in the front of the shop.
“I’ve always wanted to do a bakery,” Myers said. “At the core of it is a family thing. It’s about traditions and being in the kitchen.”
One morning last week, with the doors of Main Street Bakery closed to customers, Myers moved quickly through the kitchen whipping up pound cakes and cupcakes, drizzling icing on lemon bars and raspberry bars, rolling out dough for cinnamon rolls.
She suspects cooking shows on television fueled the trend toward more local bakeries.
Added her cake decorator, Molly Hartnett: “And everybody got over the whole Atkins diet; everyone came to their senses and started eating carbs again.”
On the other side of town, Aleka Selig also is baking primarily for customers who order in advance, though she hopes to expand into more retail in coming months.
When Selig opened Ally & Eloise Bakeshop in Forest Acres two years ago, there weren’t as many local bakeries as there are now, she said.
But the new shops are spread around, each offering something a little different. She sells a lot of French macaroons and cookies, for example.
“Everybody has their own niche,” Selig said, “and is trying to figure out what works for them.”
Erin Nobles’ customers are people who drop by her renovated two-story house on Devine Street for coffee and a treat at the Silver Spoon.
She went to a French pastry school, so she sells a lot of breakfast foods, such as muffins and croissants.
“Bakeries like mine are probably more popular now because you know where the product’s coming from and who’s made it,” Nobles said.
“Spring and summer, when fruits are more in season, I plan to get a lot of my fruit locally,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out how to start a beehive to have honey here,” an ingredient key to honeycomb bars, a signature dessert.
For Lowery and his wife, Angie, it’s all about baking bread.
Their shop doesn’t have a phone. Mark Lowery said bread can be tricky, and they don’t really have time to answer.
Besides, their customers drop by to see what’s coming out of the oven.
“We’re as big as we want to be. We just want to be a neighborhood bakery,” he said. “We’re in it to make a living, earn enough money to pay the bills, and do something we love.
“It’s something we want to be able to do – ourselves – every day.”
A sampling of local bakeries
Ally & Eloise Bakeshop, 5209-B Forest Drive, Forest Acres; (803) 708-2982
Blue Flour Bakery, 7703 St. Andrews Road, Irmo; (803) 407-3603
Chocolate Nirvana, 1531 Richland St., Columbia; (803) 799-9982
Chocolate Wonderland, 182 Ellis Ave., Lexington; (803) 957-5002
Cook’s Bakery, 6315 N. Main St., Columbia; (803) 754-1902
Crust Bakehouse, 2701-B Rosewood Drive, Columbia
Cupcake, 1213 Lincoln St., Columbia; (803) 212-4949
Cupcake Paradise, 800 Lake Murray Blvd., Irmo; (803) 445-1515
Heather’s Artisan Bakery, 1524 Lafayette Ave., West Columbia; (803) 807-1428
Main Street Bakery, 3307 N. Main St., Columbia; (803) 807-9567
Silver Spoon Bake Shop, 2507 Devine St., Columbia; (803) 673-6374
Sweet Temptations, 2231 Main St., Columbia; (803) 728-0245
Tiffany’s, 8502 Two Notch Road, Columbia; (803) 736-2253
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.