Small Business Marketing

The Rise of the Instagram-Friendly Microbakery

May 22, 2021 • 10+ min read
Confectioner woman making delicious cream for cupcakes
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      When we start using words like “unprecedented” to describe everyday life, I turn to my old stand-by for comfort: baked goods.

      Baked goods don’t care if you had to wait in line for 45 minutes in freezing cold weather to get into the grocery store. Baked goods don’t care if you wear 2 masks on your afternoon walk in between a million Zoom calls. Baked goods are always there.

      With bakeries and high-end restaurants closed in response to the pandemic, pastry chefs have started operating microbakeries out of their tiny apartment kitchens, baking sourdough, croissants, cookies, and more—using their creativity to bring people the exact kind of comfort food we all need right now.

      Making Dessert the Main Attraction

      The idea of microbakeries—food businesses started out of your home kitchen—isn’t new. What’s different now is that these microbakeries aren’t amateurs who happen to have a great recipe for chocolate chip cookies or strawberry jam. Out-of-work pastry chefs and alumni of some of America’s finest restaurants and bakeries helm the newest microbakeries.

      All this is made possible by so-called “cottage food laws,” state licensing exceptions that allow home bakers to sell certain foods like jams, jellies, and baked goods without needing to undergo the rigorous permitting and health inspection process required in a restaurant setting.

      “What we’ve seen in the last year is, obviously there’s a demand for dessert,” pastry chef Kelly Miao—a Dominique Ansel and Bar Boulud alum—told the New York Times. She started Kemi Dessert Bar from her Queens apartment, making home deliveries of verrines, tarts, and custard buns. “I’m not sure why restaurants don’t highlight it more, because there’s so much to offer. Desserts can be extraordinary, but [restaurants] don’t give them the chance to shine.”

       

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      A post shared by Kemi Dessert Bar (@kemidessertbar)

      For many chefs, it’s about recreating what people miss the most from pre-pandemic life. “Well, why do we do it?” Shuna Lydon, who owns Seabird Bakery out of her apartment in Brooklyn, asked the New York Times. She serves up baked goods, French toast, cinnamon rolls, and more brunch staples. “Because brunch is a thing that is very high up there on people’s list of things they miss the most.”

       

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      A post shared by seabird bakery (@seabirdbakery)

      With start-up costs relatively low—what self-respecting pastry chef doesn’t have an oven or stand mixer in their home?—there’s a window of opportunity that many bakers feel gives them more creativity and ownership over what they make. 

      What You Need to Start Your Own Microbakery

      Space will be the biggest factor in what and how much you choose to sell. “Space really determines our menu. We have to be really creative not only in terms of the items but also the logistics. We have a regular fridge; you can’t fit 20 kilos of dough in that,” Miro Uskokovic, who runs Extra Helpings out of his Queens apartment with his wife (and fellow pastry chef) Shilpa, told Food and Wine. “Every corner of our home is turning into kitchen storage. We turned our second bedroom into a large pantry, where we keep several metro racks with ingredients and molds.”

      You may also need to level up your equipment, as consumer-grade mixers, fridges, and work tables may not cut it. “My home mixer can make a batch of 50 cookies at a time, and on average I’m selling 600 to 1000 cookies per week,” LA-based Kirstyn Shaw of the Very Best Cookie microbakery told Food and Wine. Shaw rents space at a ghost kitchen once a week just to keep up with demand. 

       

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      A post shared by Qookie Monsta (@theverybestcookie)

      A rigorous cleaning protocol—and ways to communicate that with customers—is next. Depending on what state you reside in, you may face stricter regulations on what you can and cannot sell. But taking precautions—like wearing a mask and gloves while handling baked goods and maintaining a regular cleaning schedule—matters.

      Finally, even if you have the best cakes or pies in the world, it won’t matter if no one finds out. The most successful microbakeries attribute their growth to social media channels like Instagram. Online-only Kora, a Filipino doughnut shop started by Eleven Madison Park alum Kimberly Camara, already has a waitlist of 800 customers. She adds an order form to her Instagram bio every Monday at 3:00pm for the donut flavor of the week—and they usually sell out within a minute. 

       

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      A post shared by @fromkora

      A strong social media presence gives bakers the freedom to avoid third-party delivery services, which cut into already thin profit margins. It also helps with scheduling pickups or deliveries or expanding to nationwide shipping—you’ll need to decide how to get your baked goods to the masses. 

      Will Microbakeries Last?

      When bakeries and restaurants open again, will microbakeries last? That depends. Some chefs plan on turning their efforts into sit-down pastry shops, tasting rooms, or brick-and-mortar neighborhood bakeries. “Many people dream of having a business of their own,” Uskokovic told Food and Wine. “We are taking things one step at a time with the hopes that it will turn into something bigger—something permanent.”

      Others hope that the model is here to stay. 

      “It’s really cool and interesting to have a whole class of restaurants, basically, where the barrier to entry is much lower than we’re used to,” Marissa Sanders, who delivers savory pastries through Wrightwood & Sawyer out of her Brooklyn apartment, told the New York Times. “I hope it’s something we can hang onto. There’s a real sense of hustle, which is very encouraging and creative as people flourish in this terrible, uncontrollable situation.”

      About the author
      Kayla Voigt

      Always in search of adventure, Kayla hails from Hopkinton, MA, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can find her at the summit of a mountain or digging in to a big bowl of pasta when she's not writing. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

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