ll archives: The Little Tart Bake Shop's Sarah O'Brien
If you're an Atlanta reader, chances are you've had some of the deliciousness available at The Little Tart Bake Shop. Meet bakery owner Sarah O'Brien, who's passion for baking presented itself early on (like age 10!). And hey, if you've not had Little Tart, when you're done here, go and grab something sweet from their Grant Park or Krog Street Market locations!
Name: Sarah O’Brien
Current location: ATL
Where are you from? I grew up on a farm in a tiny, one-stop-light town in rural Ohio called Brookfield.
Education: I graduated with a degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University, and then got a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Iowa.
Business & Formal Title: Owner & Baker at The Little Tart Bake Shop (my card says “Head Tart”)
Tell us about The Little Tart Bake Shop. How did it come to be? I remember talking about opening my own place in my early twenties. I would walk into a bakery or a coffee shop and immediately think, I want to do this! How would I do this differently? What food would I make if I ran a place like this? I baked and cooked for my friends and family from a very early age, and once I had spent some time in Paris in my early teens, I had this ideal bakery in mind that I felt like I could create. The fact that I ended up in Atlanta, which really needed a great French bakery at the time, was serendipitous. It’s all a bit more complicated than that, but really I just wanted to create a place where I would want to eat every single day, and I believed I could do it. And I love to bake.
What is your company slogan/mission? Handmade with love and local ingredients. We aim to highlight local and seasonal produce and products in our baked goods. I am proud that my bakery uses as much local produce, meat, cheese, honey, and jam that I can get my hands on!
What did you do before opening LTBS? At what point did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur instead? Before I moved back to the States, I spent a year in Paris, teaching English and externing at a couple of bakeries. I was considering a career in academia as a poetry and writing professor, but jobs were thin on the ground in academia then (and probably still are now), and I started to think about how I wanted to be settled somewhere; academic jobs, besides being hard to find, were for a one or two-year period, and then you were expected to pick up and find another post somewhere else. I traveled a lot in my early twenties, and lived in South Africa as well as France, and I started to really crave the idea of home -- a garden, my dogs, chickens. My peripatetic lifestyle wouldn’t support that desire for roots, so at that intersection of wanting to settle in one place and wanting to create the bakery of my dreams, Little Tart - and my stab at entrepreneurship - were born.
Whenever you decided that you were ready to take the leap, what were your next steps? I just started doing it: looking for space, developing a menu, researching the health code to sell at farmers markets. I am very list-driven, so I just made a list of what I needed to do and started tackling it.
You have a new location! Tell us how it felt whenever you first expanded. I have two brick and mortar locations - one in Grant Park with the very awesome folks at Octane, and another at the new Krog Street Market. I also sell at farmers markets around town, so it feels like we have many locations! I still feel like I’m in the midst of opening Krog Street really (we’re less than four months old), but I can tell you that ringing up my first customer at my second location felt incredible. I am so proud that my relatively small team of bakers and servers was able to pull off opening a second location the week of Thanksgiving. I can’t stress how crazy that was, but we did it, and I am flooded with pride whenever I think about it.
What was the biggest thing you overcame launching LTBS? I don’t feel like I overcame anything really. I’ve been very lucky; I’ve had the support of my family and friends from day one, and the response to bakery has been great from the beginning (thanks Atlanta!). I had to learn a lot very quickly, but that doesn’t feel like something that I overcame, it just feels like something I did, day by day. My father has run his own business since he was 25. Throughout my childhood I witnessed how hard he worked -- and how successful his business was and is thanks to his unrelenting work ethic, honesty, and unbending high standards. I am lucky that I had such great examples growing up.
Would you describe LTBS as your “dream job”? Why or why not? What constitutes a dream job for you? Dream job “A” would involve jetting around the world and writing about my travel and eating experiences. Dream job “B” involves running my own bakery, and being proud of what I do everyday. For me, a dream job constitutes a job in which I’m never bored. Owning your own business is never boring! So yes, Little Tart is one of my dream jobs.
Entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses. How do you balance work and life? Do you think that’s even possible? I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m working on it. I think it must be possible to balance work and life, because I believe I will only be a better baker and boss if I am also fulfilled in other areas of my life -- if I am able to spend time with my loved ones, exercise, read, write, garden. I’m trying to carve out more time for those things, and for just goofing off too, but it’s hard because I am the sole owner of this business, and there is always something that needs doing. I think my best bet for actually finding a balance is to surround myself with managers who share my work ethic and vision for this business, so I know it’s in good hands when I take a day off. I’ve done that - my managers are total badasses - so I’m getting there!
What does your daily routine consist of? Every day is different, depending on whether I need to be on production, testing recipes, working the register at Krog Street, doing payroll or the books, or dealing with some other issue/adventure/opportunity that comes up. I work 10 - 12 hours a day, six days per week. The only constant to my routine is my breakfast: an excellent cortado and what we call a croissant-bébé (a mini croissant made from the offcuts of our croissant production).
You have to do it and you hate it – what is your least favorite task to do at LTBS? I hate cleaning the drains. It’s gross.
You're on the verge of a “business-lady-breakdown”. How do you unwind? I talk it over with my boyfriend, gain some perspective and insight, and then enjoy a good dinner and a glass of wine. A good night’s sleep generally cures what ails me, too.
What did you think you’d be doing now at age 10? My grandmother taught me to bake my first pie on my 10th birthday, so my bakery dreams were already budding.
Tell us 3 of your cannot-live-without ladypreneur apps. I try to spend the least amount of time possible looking at screens, but I do enjoy Instagram.
Top 5 favorite cities? Paris, Bangkok, Cape Town, Rome, and Atlanta
Red, White, Sparkling or stronger? All of the above
Tell us the best place to eat in ATL. If it’s your kitchen, share your best recipe. BoccaLupo is down the street from my house, and Bruce Logue is one of my favorite chefs in the city. I feel very lucky that I can stroll over and sit at the bar and have one of the best plates of pasta anywhere. I love pasta. My other favorite place to eat in town is Miller Union; I’d eat there weekly if I could!
Words to live by: When the shit gets deeper, get a bigger shovel. -my Dad
In 5 years you’ll be: Here. It’s a good place to be.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs interested in starting a bake shop or in simply having a brick and mortar? Find a way to do it. Just get started, and then put one foot in front of the other. Don’t ask for permission. Don’t be disheartened by the number of people who won’t take you seriously. My plan to open my own bakery was brushed off by plenty of folks I talked to as just a starry-eyed girl talking about how she wanted to make cookies for a living. And here I am.
Anything else to add? Spill it: I was asked to give advice to young cooks in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing recently, and I’ll repeat that advice here. Watch Field of Dreams. Seriously. Internalize the idea that “if you build it, they will come.” I know that sounds silly, but I truly believed that if I made an honest, delicious product, people would want to buy it. And that belief carried me through the scariest moments of opening my own shop.