Stir Crazy Baked Goods: Robbie Werner’s Bakery From the Heart
You don’t need a bakery to be a baker. What you need is the desire to bake, and Robbie Werner, born into a baking culture, was a successful baker long before she opened a business.
She now runs Stir Crazy Baked Goods in Fort Worth. Her story is one of continual inspiration, from family and surroundings, and an inner drive to cook combined with a love of small, homegrown shops.
The Perfect Ingredients for a Bakery: Inspiration, Familial Heritage
Robbie and her husband have always valued homegrown, local businesses. They the sense of community they exude. Typically they are founded by visionaries who start small but no less believe in the ramifications of what they do. Robbie and her husband found a like-mindedness among such small business owners.
“Eating in other people's local shops and … just keeping your money local altogether has just been kind of something that we've known to support more than the big box stores and things like that,” Robbie said. “And in raising our kids we try not to shop in malls, but we shop in local boutiques, or what have you.”
When Robbie and her family travel around the country, they look up the small, local outlets and eateries, be they bakeries, delis, ice cream stores, or such things. This was a practice handed down by their parents, as they experimented with new restaurants. When you explore small, local businesses, there are plenty of discoveries you can make.
“Every time we went into a place it was just kind of fun to dream up what my place might be like, you know, if I had an ice cream store, what can I do with it what color would it be and it was kind of a game, we would play with our kids until it turned into I think I might want a store of my own, and what would that look like and what am I good at and what can I turn into not just a side gig, but a full blown space of my own.”While exploring these small stores and eateries, Robbie imagined opening her own.
But these weren’t just dreams. Robbie started her baking business in a small grocery store in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It wasn’t exactly a normal start, as she ran what she jocundly calls a “black market bakery”. She sold her goods through the deli after baking them in her home kitchen.
This post is part of a series for AccelerateDFW's Storytelling initiative. For more insights on entrepreneurs in DFW and beyond, visit the Storytelling page.
Baking came naturally for Robbie – it was in her blood. Same for her husband. Her mom was a baker, and her husband’s mom was a baker, so the two brought these habits into their household with them. Being in the kitchen and making their own food was intertwined with their lives.
“We enjoyed being in the kitchen. We loved playing with our food. It was an economic way to live our lives … sometimes we couldn't afford to buy the grocery store cake for our birthdays, so we bought a cake mix instead. And that idea of spending time with each other and for each other was a big deal in our family.”
It’s like a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to cooking. Her mom made her wedding cake – and the groom cake. For their kids’ birthday parties, they always made the cake. They wanted to do it themselves.
Robbie and her husband would also prepare food for coworkers and friends. They couldn’t stop from preparing it. It was a familial heritage handed down, almost. As Robbie said, it was just what a Warner or Schroeder did.
This homemade preference and their homegrown, local shopping values were birds of the same feather. Robbie and her family wanted to do their own thing, and they loved small businesses because they were run by people doing their own thing, just like them.
Giving Fort Worth The Homegrown Scene
This passion would explode into a business: Stir Crazy Baked Goods in Fort Worth.
But why Fort Worth? Turns out, Robbie wanted to bring to Fort Worth what she had experienced in her adventures.
After moving to Fort Worth from Tennessee, Robbie got a job at the Kimball Art Museum. This gave her a platform from which to connect with others in the area. Answering questions about what to do in town, she found herself becoming an expert on what to see and where to go in Fort Worth. Being at the Kimball gave Robbie the added advantage of crossing paths with people from around the world, not only locals.
She loved becoming more connected with the Fort Worth scene. The Fort Worth culture was small, but rich, as she put it. This networking experience continued to foster inspiration within Robbie and the drive to open her own bakery swelled.
“When I figured out that I wanted to have my own bakery, I knew which neighborhood I wanted to be in, and I knew what people I thought had kind of the same ideals that I did … just from kind of learning more about our city almost as a visitor would.”
She saw Fort Worth from the outside-in but had become as familiar with it as a native. Since then, she’s witnessed the city grow. But even before all the local eateries and big stores began opening up, Robbie was on the Fort Worth frontier with her bakery.
The ArtsGoggle Festival in Fort Worth’s near southside is where Robbie began pitching her idea. At that time the area there around Magnolia Avenue was a “total ghost town,” Robbie said, but she knew a couple people there that allowed her a plug-in to the network.
One time she told someone in the farmer’s market there that she wanted to try selling baked goods at it. She was dissuaded against it, told that she didn’t want to try it because it would be a lot of work and she wouldn’t get any money while spending all her time on it. But the drive towards baking was such in Robbie that there was no stopping it.
“I never did get to be a part of the Farmers’ Market for whatever reason, but it did spur the curiosity in me, and I have a real side that's not cute. And it's all like, I'm gonna make it happen. And this is going to work. … And I kind of used a little bit of that to keep going with the idea and to see if I could make it work for myself, and maybe it wouldn't, but I was going to try anyway. So my approach was just to start as small as possible, but go ahead and start working that local audience and try to get some people following us.”
She was finally discovering a likeminded community in Fort Worth. Robbie’s desire to bring the small, homegrown vibes she had experienced elsewhere to Fort Worth was another key component of her inspiration. She and her family continued to travel, taking lengthy road trips. They visited other cities’ local, independent theaters and shops and wondered why Fort Worth didn’t have these. This was back in the day when social media was new, as well. To gain “followers”, Robbie had to work local events and meet people in-person and be a part of the community. As she said, “And we just tried to be really organic about our growth … that's where it started.”
“[W]e would just go to these cool cities and question, ‘Well, how can we make this happen where we live?’” Robbie said. “We want the place that we live be as cool as wherever we're venturing out to[.]”
Cookies, Cakes, And Messes, Too: The Ups, Downs, Ins and Outs of Running a Bakery
Passion and a can-do attitude drove Robbie to founding her bakery. Once it was up and running, what drove her onwards through all the ups and downs of small business ownership? Even a highly-motivated entrepreneur such as Robbie has made mistakes.
“I always tell people that I've made every mistake there is to make … whether it's like dropping a cake or one time I did this entire wedding, went to deliver it, and I did it on the wrong day.”
In addition to personal mistakes, issues beyond her control have also created challenges. There’s currently construction on the outside of her bakery, and this after five years of construction outside her former location. Construction of course required Robbie to communicate all the more that the bakery was still there, active, and ready to be found.
Then there is negative feedback – the challenge of small business owners, especially food-based businesses, that has so grown in our social-media era. I wonder what it must be like to feel you’re on top of your world – then see bad reviews on Yelp. Robbie gave me a little window into that.
“That part is really tough because … I want to have that conversation face to face. … And I want to hear your side and I want everybody to come to the table because that to me is what the bakery is about. But it's not that way so much of the time and you have to be forgiving or you have to be apologetic or, you know, you just kind of have to reason with people or be willing to be that vulnerable all the time and that can be tough.”
In normal times, the inconvenience of construction work and the disappointment of negative reviews would be typical challenges in running a business. In the middle of this pandemic, they are surely slight distractions.
It was from this active perseverance that Robbie learned the positives of the situation. One of these comes from experiencing entrepreneurs banding together.After the covid-19 pandemic spread in the U.S., Robbie questioned whether they were going to make it through, not knowing how long it would last or how the government might help. And there wasn’t a lot of time available. “Literally overnight,” Robbie said, “we were making changes.”
As Robbie said, “The conversations that we're having with other entrepreneurs like we like I said, a little bit ago has been so great. I mean, we're sharing business ideas that we've never shared before, and so just strengthening those bonds and the community has been incredible.”
She was also strengthened in the discovery of what she was able to do in navigating the situation and rerouting her business. The sudden, immediate changes, including budget slashing and forecasting over the next few months, allowed Robbie to use her skills more effectively and under more uncertainty than ever before. “I didn’t know that I had that kind of stamina,” Robbie said.
She also enjoyed her customers’ continued support.
“They came out and they spent their money with us at Easter time and at Mother's Day, and we had great numbers those weeks, you know, because they could have baked their own cake, but they chose to buy it from us, you know, and that was I feel like because they had a choice to make, and and the choice was theirs to be supportive of the community that they value and cherish and um and that really said a lot to us as a bakery, like we are important. We're staple [sic] in the community. People recognize that and they value that and so knowing that we have the support of the people around us in that way is huge. It's so uplifting.”
The pandemic forced the bakery into a difficult situation, and the difficult times called on Robbie, her team, and their customers to navigate together the uncertain, unprecedented situation. With a foundation in community, Robbie discovered that the one she had built came through with resilience.
Being the Leader
This includes keeping track of all the little things that have to go right when she is not present. As Robbie explained, the busier she got, the less baking she could do, and the less involved she was with the hands-on part of running the business. She has had to trust her bakery – the execution of its recipes, its image – to other people. But she also needs to hold discussions with her on responsibility beyond the bakery.Robbie isn’t just leading a business through challenging times, but also a team that works for her. As the bakery’s leader, Robbie has to keep her employees’ morale up. She gives pep talks, for example, and talks on proper practices in the bakery.
“We will have talks not only about you know, our quality of baked goods in the bakery, but also how to be a responsible person outside of the bakery and how you have to kind of choose wisely how you live your own life because you're bringing in all of those outside things to the bakery.
“And now specifically it has so much to do with the virus, and who you're exposed to and how you shop at the grocery store or who you hang out with … It's not all about internal stuff – everybody is affected by everybody else. And so that's the biggest emotional toll right now is that I'm kind of having to Mom everyone, but we're all doing it with a lot of respect.”
It’s important to build these relationships with staff because they are in it together with you. They are as invested in the success of the business.
“[I]t used to be that we could teach our new customers why we're there. We can teach them why we chose the community we did, why we even pick Fort Worth to stick around in and raise our family. Or why it was important for us to have a small bakery instead of supporting like, you know, the big grocery store chain or whatever it is. So having those conversations with our direct community was really exciting and I would say later, it became, you know, as we grew and expanded and started doing more work in in our neighborhood and in business wise, um, it was then getting to know our bakers and getting to know our staff … getting to know the people that work in the bakery has been really exciting.”
Robbie Werner always baked for people and supported the local and homegrown. The actual bakery was an extension of this – her passion. Talking with people and determining to make something happen translated this passion into reality. These are the ingredients for an entrepreneur: passion, vision, and action. Food comes from the heart, and so do bakeries.
Note: The quotations may have been edited for grammatical purposes and to remove chit-chat phrases ("you know", etc.) or repeated words ("and, and", etc.).