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Inspiring Conversations with Julia Blaine of Strong Arm Baking Company

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julia Blaine.

Hi Julia, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Strong Arm is a small family business that specializes in handmade pastries and old-world style bread. My husband Thomas and I started Strong Arm in our home as a “side hustle” back in 2014. We both had full-time jobs but wanted a little more challenge. Thomas built a small wood-fired oven by hand and we started selling small batches of sourdough bread and pastries at a Wednesday market in Raleigh. In the fall of that year, we expanded to offer a small prepaid “Breadshare” program in our hometown of Oxford. 8 people signed up and we supplied them with a fresh loaf of bread each week.

One year later, the lines at both small markets started to get quite long… we added two additional area markets and we both quit our full-time jobs. We washed a LOT of dishes and slept very little. We hired our first employee in 2016. In the fall of 2019, we were 11 people working around the clock in our home, 7 days a week, with 2 babies and not many rooms left to house them. Carpets had long since been ripped up and washable walls installed in several rooms of the house to accommodate bigger equipment and a steadily increasing slew of refrigerators. We sold at 4 area markets and serviced a dozen or so local coffee shops with fresh pastries every day. We were scheduled to open our Brick and Mortar location in downtown Oxford in the summer of 2020, as COVID swooped in to shut down most of our clients, and close farmers markets indefinitely.

We switched, essentially overnight, to a home delivery meal and pastry service using our email list of loyal and new customers we had built over the years. As lockdowns started, we served several hundred folks fresh pastries, bread, full meals, artisan craft items from around the triangle… all delivered to their porches early Saturday morning. You might be stuck at home, but at least there were warm croissants and chicken pot pies freshly baked and headed to you.

Today, we have moved our business out of our rural home and into a historic building in downtown Oxford where we have been serving the wider Granville county community for one year. We are open for breakfast and lunch 5 days a week, dinner every Saturday night, and we still deliver freshly baked items, full meals, and fresh hearty salads for the week to homes around the triangle (Wake Forest, Raleigh, Durham, Hillsborough, and Oxford) each week. We now employ 41 lovely, hardworking humans, and continue to serve a community of loyal Strong Arm patrons who allow us to feed them delicious things each week.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The road is always paved with lessons learned and mistakes made… but we have been lucky to have crossed paths with former and existing co-workers who have supported our plans, and worked hard to help us achieve our goals along the way. We are a family business… on any given Saturday, no less than 3 family members could be found running delivery routes, watching our children, washing dishes, or working local market stands. We have been supported by a loyal customer base, a large and loving family, and employees who stand by us through thick and thin, working hard and helping us learn and make improvements along the way.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Strong Arm Baking Company?
We make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between, and we’ll deliver them to your porch, or one of our partners in your area. We make foods that we crave, foods that help folks to feel joy, and foods that we feel good about serving to our children and family. Our croissants and bread are as good as any you can find on the east coast, though our home in the sleepy town of Oxford doesn’t get much attention.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
Risks for us have always been whether or not to hire an additional employee that we don’t think we can afford or to buy a large piece of equipment that we aren’t sure we will need. We always leap… hoping for the best and we have always been pleasantly surprised that calculated risks turn out to be strong investments. When you are focused on doing the right thing for your business and customers, decisions are simpler, and for us, have had positive outcomes!

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Image Credits
L’amour Photo

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