When Ainslie Martin and Colin O’Rourke come home from long days of baking at their full-time jobs, they don’t stop working — they pull out the mixing bowls and sheet trays again.
Late at night and into the early morning is when the couple bakes fresh bread for their new business, the Virginia Bread Company.
“I’m just always surprised that we’re able to keep this up,” Martin said. “I mean it’s almost like having a baby, you have to give it so much attention and care just to keep it healthy.”
Martin, 21, and O’Rourke, 26, are new owners of the Virginia Bread Company. The couple received their business license in April and began selling at the Yorktown Market Days on Saturdays.
But after just a few months of operating, they’re finding that their product is so popular they need more space for it.
The first week at the market, O’Rourke said they sold out within a few hours. The pair were proud of how well their bread had sold, but realized their popularity was something they hadn’t prepared for.
“The first time at the market is always nerve-racking,” he said. “You’ve put in all this work and you don’t know what to expect, you’re worrying about what people think and you just want people to respond well to all your hard work.”
In the beginning, Martin remembers staying up until 4 a.m. on the weekends, just trying to get their operations coordinated. It was a struggle at first, she said, but it was something they loved and felt determined about.
Labor of local love
As the daughter of business owner Maureen Anderson, owner of Tasha’s Own, Martin knew she wanted to start her own business one day. Selling at the market seemed like an easy way to make extra money during the slow months, the couple said, and it gave them the drive to finally start their business.
But, as a fairly young couple that had never started a business before, they realized quickly that it might not be easy.
“There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into starting a business, especially when it involves food,” Martin said. “But that’s where we learned to lean on our family and community for help.”
The community is a driving factor behind the couple’s business model. Both attribute a love for locally-sourced food as that special element that keeps them working over hot ovens late into the night.
“I prefer to spend my money with people that feel real,” Martin said. “If I know this person that has the booth next to me and I see her struggle trying to raise her crops and I can know if I buy my vegetables from her, then I’m helping to support her and her business.”
A life of bread
Martin and O’Rourke have dedicated their lives to baking and food. As graduates of the Culinary Institute of Virginia in Norfolk, where they met, the couple became bakers in local restaurants and markets. Colin wakes up each morning at 4 a.m. to bake fresh bread for the new Earth Fare grocery store in Williamsburg and then comes home to bake more for the market.
Martin also works full time baking for Carrot Tree but has devoted her spare time to growing their new business.
“There’s something instantly gratifying about it,” Martin said. “You spend all this time making something and then you get to see people enjoy it, sometimes right there at your table. There’s nothing like it.”
Martin said she remembers loving to bake for as long as she can remember and that her mother always encouraged her to do what made her happy.
“I remember my mom came home with the tiniest pie dish and she let me play with the leftover dough and make the cutest little pie you’ve probably ever seen,” Martin said.
For O’Rourke, the love of baking also is a family trait that he inherited from his brother and mother, who also have a love of the kitchen. It wasn’t until he was older and started to work in a bagel shop that he really found an interest in baking.
“There’s just something about spending your time making something and seeing it finally come together that sparked my interest,” he said.
Currently, the couple is baking out of their home but they plan to grow into a brick-and-mortar business one day. The couple recently moved to a new home with a bigger oven, but find that they still need something even larger to operate on the scale they want.
For now though, only a few months into their business, the pair is content with how far they’ve come.
“The best part is when you’re at the market and you’re rushing to get everything set up,” Martin said. “But then, once it’s all done, you have something really special that you can share with the people around you.”