(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A local bakery is celebrating two years in business.
Jessica Shultz started her bakery, Herb & Honey, in 2020 — the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when businesses were temporarily shuttered by the state for public health, then many of those businesses were unable to weather the financial hardship those closures brought. While some entrepreneurs would wince and second guess a new business venture facing those circumstances, Schultz ran forward.
“There was only one way to go — up,” Schultz said earlier this year.
At Herb & Honey, Schultz aims to locally source the ingredients. Some of the grains are milled in Pittsburgh, the rhubarb, fruit and berries are local, eggs and honey come from a Waterford farm, lemon balm comes from an urban farm on East 7th Street, and many of the herbs and garlic scapes come from Schultz’s own garden.
She’s now been in business for two years. She has four employees who help at the bakery.
“I have some really passionate people working with me. They love food, and they love crafts, and some of them were bakers at home,” Schultz said of her employees. “I don’t usually advertise jobs — it’s usually people reaching out to me who hate their day job or who are interested in the craft and artisan-style baking.”
It hasn’t always been easy. First it was the pandemic. Today, she’s faced with the complications of inflation and supply issues that other restaurateurs are enduring. Lately, that has meant making difficult decisions like raising prices, or discontinuing items (“There’s an upper limit to what people are willing to pay for some things,” Schultz said of the discontinued items). Her business model that focuses on local ingredients has helped her weather some of the supply issues.
“It has made us lean a little harder on our local folks. Local eggs have been more stable, so I’ve been insulated from the fluctuations in the national egg market,” Schultz said. “I’ve leaned on our local suppliers, and they’ve supported me along the way.”
Some challenges can’t be circumnavigated. The cost of flour is up 45%, she said. And what’s a bakery without flour? She’s considering her options and how she might pivot.
“It has made me start looking at more gluten-free items, not that I would every jump to just gluten-free, but if flour is that expensive per pound, maybe I can experiment in other ways too,” Schultz said.
When Schultz was first starting out, Urbaniak Brothers gave her a 200-square-foot space at their market (310 E. 24th St. in Erie). She’s still in that space, and she’s thankful for the relationship she has had with Urbaniak.
“Urbaniak has been incredibly generous with the space they’ve offered us. I don’t know if this ever would have started without them,” Schultz said. “I’m thankful for them just being so generous with their expertise, their space and their support.”
And support clearly has been a trend that Schultz has noticed from the Erie community. First it’s Urbaniak Brothers with a space for business, then it’s local farmers supplying her with fresh, local ingredients, and recently a local restaurant has helped her with supply chain issues.
“The butter I usually buy wasn’t available through my distributor, so I had to get it from a different distributor, but I didn’t meet the minimum order requirement,” Schultz said. “A local restaurant let me piggy back off their order. It’s two local businesses working together for a mutual benefit.”
Another challenge she’s facing is that Herb & Honey has outgrown its space. Currently, they’re closed midweek, but they’re only closed so the team can have enough space to work with dough. Schultz said she’s had to turn down special orders — including an offer to supply local stores — because she doesn’t have enough room to create that much product. For a local bakery, having so much enduring demand that you’ve outgrown your space isn’t a terrible problem to have. Schultz said she’s always eying a new workspace, but she’s specific in what that new space will look like.
“I’m willing to wait for the right space. I don’t want something in a strip mall,” she said. “I’m willing to wait for the right thing so we can intentionally build on a community we already have growing.”
This weekend, Nov. 11 and 12, to celebrate the two-year anniversary, Herb & Honey is planning to have special pastries available, including caramel apple cinnamon rolls (with apples from Laughing Hill Farm in Wattsburg), and pumpkin pie stuffed croissants (featuring locally-made pumpkin butter). Herb & Honey also is planning to have a perogi sourdough loaf — a loaf of sourdough bread with traditional perogi fillings rolled into it (roasted potatoes, onions, farmer cheese, cheddar cheese and scallions). The bakery is open during its normal business hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
“We’re just celebrating our two-year anniversary. We’re not going to be wearing party hats or anything. This is just to show appreciation and to thank our customers for coming to us for two years,” Schultz said.