Carla Bakes of Avondale - Carla Walker baking up Nostalgia with a Twist in Avondale
By Kathleen Curry
Carla Walker is the owner and operator of CarlaBakes, a business fresh out of the oven and already a hot success. Holy City cookies, gluten-free cinnamon rolls, and oatmeal cream pies are just some of her instant classics. In February, CarlaBakes participated in the first ever Charleston Food Truck festival; in March, the Lowcountry Artist Market downtown, and just a week ago, the Makers' Market at Mixon in Park Circle.
Walker grew up in Milledgeville, GA, very close to Athens. She's been baking for as long as she can remember, in a family full of excellent cooks and food lovers. She recalls, "most of the baking came from my great grandma, she was notorious for not giving away all her secrets, so you might try to imitate what she did, but it would never taste the same."
As you might imagine, Walker had been eyeing culinary schools since her teens, but Atlanta's schools were a little pricey. Thankfully Trident Technical College's Culinary Institute had opened just one state away. Walker says she truly loved her time at the CIC, and all of her teachers. "Michael Carmel and Dean Saboe have created an incredible program—the CIC snagged the best of the best. Chef Scott Stefanelli is a true food genius; he runs the 181 Palmer restaurant. Lisa Buzzelli runs the dining room--she knows everything there is to know about the hospitality industry." Walker adds that they offer classes that other schools dream about, like Farm to Plate, Artisan Breads, Seafood Cookery, and a full butchery class. Walker took every one of these classes in order to earn an Advanced certificate; to this day she cannot believe her luck in having those opportunities.
Walker worked in several kitchens Downtown before her son was born. After his arrival, she became a stay at home mom, providing friends and neighbors with foods for special occasions, office meetings, and events. She was staying very busy, so she decided to make it an official business last fall. Walker notes that, "running a business is much like raising a child. You have to be extremely patient. I think with both, there are many blessings in disguise or missed opportunities that I am very thankful for. A recent example is I wanted to be a part of the Farmers Market this year, but didn't make it. Now, I'm so thankful. I would have been so overwhelmed with it that I wouldn't be able to expand the wedding and special events part of my business, such as my dessert bar and tea party services! So with a "missed opportunity" came many other opportunities!"
In describing her business philosophy, Walker says it just made sense to stay true to who she was and recipes she'd known her whole life, 'baking up classic nostalgia, with a unique twist. The Holy City Cookies contain chocolate chips and chopped bacon; it's an unexpected, addicting blend of salty and sweet. Let's just say these sell out very quickly. Another hot seller is her oatmeal cream pies. Walker says when she was little this was an after school delicacy on Fridays at the local market. Her version contains brown sugar, molasses, butter, cinnamon, and oats with a marshmallow crème and real vanilla filling. If a homemade oatmeal crème pie or Holy City cookie sounds delectable right now, stop by Two Brothers Grocery on Wentworth or Alchemy Coffee Shop in Avondale.
Walker also makes whoopie pies, banana bread, and artisan breads. For holidays, she makes peanut butter, ginger, and lemon cookies upon request. For weddings, she features monogrammed sugar cookies. For those with special diets or alternative palates, Walker has vegan and gluten-free options. Both her gluten-free cinnamon rolls and vegan cakes have cult followings! All of these items can be ordered on carlabakes.com; Walker always tries to accommodate any client for any need they may have. She is a true believer in the importance of local, sustainable, and healthy food, and its importance for the individual, the family, and the community. All of the produce Walker uses is locally sourced as much as possible. Her family is part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Abundant Seafood's Community Supported Fishery (CSF). Walker's favorite place to shop is the Vegetable Bin for both the quality of their products and its helpful and informative staff. Her favorite place to be on Saturday mornings is the Farmers Market in Marion Square.
Walker really enjoys living and working in Avondale. She operates her business out of her parlor, and rents a kitchen to bake in during the evenings. During the day, she takes her son to the Aquarium or the Artist and Craftsman Supply. Her husband teaches Economics at the College of Charleston, so it's very short commute. Walker notes Avondale's proximity to Downtown cannot be beat, and they aren't that far a drive from anywhere else. Avondale offers so much to enjoy within walking distance, such as Mellow Mushroom and Al Di La. She says Avondale has a lot of community spirit; it is all about supporting each other. There's a mix of generations, and a lot of young families. She loves that their house is older-- it was built with love and skill and has a lot of character. She says if her family had bought a larger house out of town, it just wouldn't work as well. Down the road, she says she would love to write a cookbook and own a bakery-delicatessen in Avondale. For now, growing CarlaBakes and keeping an eye out for opportunities is keeping her pretty busy.
Coming up this month, CarlaBakes will be at Charleston Green Fair at James Island County Park April 27-29. Next week, Artisan Sweet Eats is a showcase for wedding planners featuring treats from CarlaBakes, King of Pops, Sweet T, Sweet Pea Chocolate, and Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts. Again, the website is www.carlabakes.com, and she is on Facebook at CarlaBakesCharleston.
A great recipe for success is interwoven with secret ingredients and blessings in disguise.
Kathleen Curry is a Lowcountry native an alumni of C of C, Carolina and Greenville Tech. In addition to contributing to Eat This! , Curry has a blog at bakingkookys.com; she is on twitter @BakingKookys and @ Currying_Favor.