Self-taught chef and photographer Mia Reade Baylor launched her pop-up Port City Pantry (www.portcitypantry.com) with friend and colleague Kaitlin Bray in 2015 while they were working at Good Eggs. Baylor now runs the pop-up on her own, delivering home-baked cookies, biscuits and scones to coffeeshops including Solo Espresso, Arrow Cafe and Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Baylor spoke with Gambit about baking and running a business.
: How did you start baking?
Baylor: My background is not really in food; I went to school for photography. A few years ago, I was living in Seattle and working in a gallery and I started cooking a lot — I guess because it was just fun. I started thinking that I could take my career toward food photography; it seemed like a natural pairing. When I moved down here and started working at Good Eggs, the cooking thing just sort of fell in my lap. The company was growing so quickly and with that came a lot more responsibility. That's where I met my friend Kaitlin ... and we decided it would be fun to do projects together.
We thought it would be fun to do a cookie pop-up at Solo, so we built up the courage to ask (Solo owner Lauren Morlock) and she said they were actually looking for someone to bake full time. We started selling our cookies almost immediately. In the beginning, we would get together and make the cookie dough and split it between our freezers and take turns baking and delivering orders.
Everything that I do I've basically taught myself. My parents always cooked and I was always around food, and I think that subconsciously I have food and cooking in my blood.
: How much do you bake on an average day?
B: It varies day to day. Kaitlin ended up getting a job offer in New York, so now it's basically just me, and my boyfriend helps me out a lot with errands and deliveries. I don't think I could do it all by myself. It has proved to be a lot of work.
I deliver to Solo and Arrow three days a week, and I deliver to Stumptown five days a week. So, on my biggest day I'm probably delivering maybe around 130 pieces, and on my smallest day maybe just two dozen. But it does seem like there's a big demand for pastries right now.
: Do you see yourself eventually expanding beyond pastries?
B: When Kaitlin and I came up with the name Port City Pantry, we wanted to come up with a name that didn't pigeonhole us into just making pastries. We wanted to be open to doing dinners and events or catering. I still want that. But it is nice to have (pastries) as a constant. I didn't bake a lot before this, and I never really had a sweet tooth; I've always been interested in more savory things. I love biscuits, so that's why I started doing that. It seemed that everyone shared that love, so I kept doing that because it was working. I think all of the pastries I do are really more of a hybrid of sweet and savory. I really try to highlight all of the local produce in Louisiana and fresh ingredients and even chocolate and sugar — things you can get locally here.
I think that Louisiana has a unique type of cuisine. For me, it took a little bit of time to realize how special it was because when I first moved down here I didn't really get it. Now I can see that there is something really special about the history of the food here. I think people like to indulge, so that's where the sweet part comes in. But I want to show that (pastries) can be really fresh and full of fruit and not sugar.