APPALACHIA – Marla Weitzman was already working as an English professor at UVA Wise when she decided to bake at home for farmers markets in Southwest Virginia.
After 10 years of transforming her kitchen into a place where scones, pretzels, cinnamon rolls, and various types of breads hit the market every week, Weitzman decided it was time to think bigger.
âI didn’t have time to negotiate a kitchen place with my family,â Weitzman said with a laugh as she set the oven timer for a load of s’mores loaves with marshmallows on Monday.
Weitzman decided earlier this year to take a “leap in faith,” as she put it. With the help of the Small Business Development Center, she developed an expanded business plan for Breads by Marla and started looking for a new kitchen to enter the bakery wholesale business.
âThis whole building is mine,â Weitzman said of the former grocery store and the church next to the Appalachia Post Office. In addition to taking out a mortgage, she has received help from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority seed capital grant and a USDA revolving loan program for rural development through the Wise County’s Economic Development Bureau.
“It’s good to see how far she has come,” said Brian Falin, director of industrial development for Wise County. “I couldn’t stop by to see what she was doing inside, but my wife brought some of the pretzels home and they were great.”
Using the VCEDA and county programs, Weitzman said she was able to purchase refurbished restaurant stoves, new stainless steel kitchen tables and sinks, a commercial mixer and food processor, and renovate the building.
âSome of the most popular products I make here are jalapeÃ±o popper bread, scones, and pretzels,â Weitzman said while testing a loaf of bread with a toothpick. “I can never take scones home with me after going to the market and I got upset once so I came home and baked a serving for myself.”
Weitzman’s pretzels also have a strong following.
âThe UVA Wise women’s basketball coach took 40 pretzels for a team tailgate party,â said Weitzman, âand I asked her to take a picture of the team and the pretzels. She said she couldn’t because they were walking so fast. “
With her new kitchen, Weitzman is preparing for the state inspection to move from her current market business to a large-scale bakery. She has already turned to local restaurants and trading companies in Wise County and Norton to deliver baked goods as her business model shifts from selling at the market table.
“The time could be right to start doing wholesale business when the markets end their season,” said Weitzman. “I’m also thinking about things like pizza or lasagna days when people can take a whole pizza or a pan of lasagna home with them.”
âIt takes a leap of faith because you don’t know if a business will work,â said Weitzman as she pulled the s’mores loaves out of the oven. âIt helps if you have another job, but I’d like to see that become my bread and butter. I’ve read that it takes a year for a restaurant to be profitable. “
Falin said entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand their business can still apply for the $ 100,000 Revolving Rural Development Loan Fund. More information is available online at www.wisecounty.org/174/Office-of-Economic-Industrial-Developmen or call (276) 328-2321.