Elaine Brown | The Red Eye Bakery, Owner
Five Minutes with Elaine Brown, The Red Eye Bakery:
“One of the reasons I got into baking was because I couldn’t find what I wanted on this side of town. I wanted baked goods made today – if people come in for something we don’t have, it’s because we have what we’ve just made.“
Passion for The Croissant
I want fresh, everything fresh. What do I like baking the most? Ask me what do I like eating the most! My favorite is croissants. Croissants are a process. I like rolling them, and folding them, and buttering them. I had always bought them at bakeries, so I said I’m going to get good at making them. I had been baking a couple years, and I decided to learn how to make croissants. Chocolate ones especially… I like to learn new things.
Dreaming Up a Bakery
I had never been in the bakery world before I started Red Eye. I learned to cook when I was little; I followed my mother around the kitchen. I loved baking. In the last five years, I got really serious about it. I just said, I really want to do this. My daughter suggested that I look into getting a bakery. I thought it was a great idea. I had never worked in a bakery. But I baked at home all the time, I baked for parties that we had, I baked for friends, and for co-workers. I was in a different business for 30 years, and I was ready to do something different.
My daughter sent me a link to the Small Business Association, that shows you how to make a business plan. I spent months doing that. I spent months researching: everything about Wilmington and the areas around, and Leland. I knew the traffic patterns, and the age groups, and the dynamics of our city, and what was needed and what we had and what we didn’t have. I really wanted to do the bakery business, and there wasn’t really a traditional bakery downtown. We have cupcake places, and cake places – which are wonderful and why I don’t make cakes or cupcakes. I send people there, because that’s their specialty.
Getting a Kickstart
The bakery was a Kickstarter project, and it was a good experience, and a nice help to get started. A lot of people from the Veterans community kicked in – we have lots of friends from a large group that does work for Veterans and law enforcement families around the country – and they are really great people. I have a lot of friends, veterans and non-veterans, in the group, and they do some really great things. One of the people in the group owns Black Rifle coffee, which is the coffee we sell here. We buy it and use it at home, and I said we would love to use their coffee in my bakery. My daughter and I are real coffee snobs, and we love Black Rifle coffee. We talked to them, and that was part of the appeal, supporting other businesses with this business, and helping people. We are open at 5, and that was important because even the early shift workers can get a good cup of coffee if they stop in here, and freshly baked pastries.
Hands in the Dough
My specialty is pastries, and fresh breads. And we do other things, like biscuits, which people love too. I’m all self-taught. I learned some from my mother. I was the only one of five kids who was interested in being in the kitchen. She taught me the basics, how to make cornbread in a skillet without measuring anything, and upside-down cake, and other things. But I really got into baking watching tv shows, and reading cookbooks. If I decided I wanted to try something, I would research it, and try it myself. I really like the Barefoot Contessa, she’s awesome. You can see that she loves to cook. And Martha Stewart, and Bobby Flay. I really love America’s Test Kitchen, which I didn’t get to watch very often. I love the science part – the “why” of how you make batter, and what the ingredients do, how you combine things.
Adding Bakery Culture to the ILM Food Scene
I was fortunate to find this building. There was a lot of work to be done, but the gentleman who owns it did all the work on the space. He cleaned it up really nicely, and did the build-out. The old wood around the windows is from 1865, from an old church. All the wood in here is from that building. I bought more of it so that we could build the counter, and the tables, and chairs – it’s all reclaimed. The bakery just kind of came together. We didn’t have much of a plan, for what it was going to look like in here.
How it’s going to be is just like everything else in life, it’s not how you thought it was going to be.
Like the cinnamon rolls. I never intended to bake cinnamon rolls, my daughter suggested I try them. Now they are our best sellers, along with the croissants and the biscuits. Bacon and cheddar biscuits, and cheddar biscuits.
We are just getting started. The neighborhood has been great, and our neighboring businesses have been too. We have really, really nice customers, who are just awesome. Brooklyn Arts District is growing, and the neighbors really embrace you. I bake for The District restaurant, they use our croissants for their Sunday brunch. And we are baking some for other restaurants; we are making Irish soda bread for Saint Patrick’s Day for one. That’s fun. Other restaurants have called us, and we are new, so we have to grow into the opportunities. We are adding a bit at a time. I have to get used to my skin here.
We have already gotten to the point where we have people come in for a cup of coffee, and a pastry, and they hang out here. Especially the weekend crowd, because we’ve created a nice sitting room environment, it’s friendly.
It’s also stressful at times, figuring out how we get the product out that people want. Someone will come in and buy something, like all of the biscuits we made for the day, which is great, but then we have to get more in baking and out for the rest of the day. One of our customers says she loves to come in on Saturday, when it’s really busy, and just watch us hustle here, in the back. You just go with the flow, it’s like a dance.
We open at 5, but I’m here at 2. I get up at 1. I love it – not getting up at 1 – but, I love coming into the bakery. I was never a morning person. I always worked night shift. This is kind of in between that. I’m happy to be here. I come in, I turn on the Blues, and it’s my place.
Indulge your love of bakery goods on Facebook at
The Red Eye Bakery, and stop in for a croissant, or two, and a loaf of the best freshly baked bread at 1011 N 4th Street, in the Brooklyn Arts District.
Watch The Red Eye Bakery video and follow along at their Kickstarter page.