One of Sheila Martin’s earliest baking memories involves standing on a Rubbermaid stool so she could reach the mixer while helping her mom bake cakes.
“My mom was a huge foodie, and I came from a large family, so I did a lot of baking from age seven on up,” said Martin, who owns Sheila’s Baking Company.
Martin opened a brick and mortar storefront exactly a year ago at 434 Georgia Ave. in North Augusta.
“Doughnuts were a special thing we’ve made for generations, so my grandma would come over and we’d make 100 doughnuts and share them around,” Martin said. “That helped scratch my passion for baking and just discover the wonder of mixing yeast and dough and ‘Wow.’ It transforms into something totally different. That has always been sort of magical to me.”
Martin’s journey from home baker to business owner took a detour when a family member turned her onto a unique way of marketing her baked goods.
“It was not in the plans to go the food truck route. I originally planned on starting a weekend bakery out of my house, but my brother had a doughnut food truck in his area, and those people started out of a converted school bus,” Martin said. “My brother told me that could be a low-cost way to get started in a tough industry and a way to test to the market. The bus is great and profitable, but we’re very happy to have a space now and be out of the truck.
Martin said it took an immense amount of trial and error to perfect the recipes her mother used.
“The base recipes we build everything from, I got most of them from my mom. It took about seven years to perfect those,” Martin said. “And we still work on them every day, trying to make them better and working on the ratios and the science behind it.”
After a year of being in a storefront, Martin said emerging from the weekend food truck model set-up into a standing business was not without its challenges.
“Shifting into a fully-commercialized set-up, everything had to change,” Martin said. “Our learning curve was immense, trying to keep up with demand from our existing customer base. We also had to train employees and try to keep our products from crashing and burning. It was incredibly stressful. Navigating that growth spurt was our biggest challenge.”
She said about half of her employees are of the Mennonite denomination, including Martin herself.
“I like to keep about a 50/50 ratio of Mennonite and non-Mennonite workers because it’s great for us to learn from other people,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, we’re all people, and it’s been a lot of fun to combine those communities.”
She said she thinks a lot of the Mennonite affinity for baking comes from the value of service and family within that community.
“We have a very strong emphasis on home-making, so almost every meal that we eat is at home, with the family sitting around the table. A lot of our church events or cultural events revolve around food, so it’s bred from that strong belief in family.”
Going forward, Martin is focused on making the current location self-sufficient, without her having to be on-site every day to oversee. When that happens, expanding to new locations will come next.
“I have a really great team, and I want to get this location working like clockwork, and then we can branch out into the CSRA and the Aiken area,” she said.
The Sheila’s Baking Co. storefront is open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday though Thursday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit sheilasbakingco.com.