Spotlight Series ~ Sarah O'Brien

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sarah O'Brien // The Little Tart Bakeshop

My Spotlight Series continues today with highlighting Sarah O'Brien, owner of The Little Tart Bakeshop. It's no secret (read more here + here) that I am a HUGE fan of Sarah and find her baked goods to be the best in Atlanta. Sarah got her start at local farmers markets around town and currently shares a storefront at the Jane in Grant Park with Octane Coffee (which makes for perfect partnership!). Sarah will add a second retail location when she opens a market stall space within Krog Street Market in Inman Park. Read more from my Q&A below....

Are you from Atlanta...  If not where are you from and how long have you lived here?

I'm actually from a small town in Eastern Ohio (trust me, you've never heard of it). I grew up on a farm and always craved the camaraderie of city living; I remember being jealous of my classmates who lived in town and had neighbors. I've been in Atlanta for 4 1/2 years, and have lived in either Grant Park or Cabbagetown (my two favorite neighborhoods city-wide) the whole time I've been here.

I remember first sampling your pastries at Chomp & Stomp years ago....  Is that how you got started - selling at Farmers Markets, Festivals, etc...?

I did get started at farmers markets, specifically at the East Lake Market and at the Emory Farmers Market. I am very grateful to those market managers who took me seriously four years ago, though they'd never heard of me. I jumped through a lot of hoops (indeed Georgia has quite a few) to find a certified kitchen and to figure out how to legally hawk my delectables. But once I started, I was off and running. I sold at derby markets, at Chomp and Stomp, anywhere I could, and I applied to market after market. Being accepted as a vendor at Grant Park Market in its first year of existence was especially exciting for me.

Regarding your past baking experiences, have you only ever worked for yourself or have you baked for other establishments? 

My prior professional experience is a mishmash of unpaid internships (in Paris), managing a coffee shop while I was in college in Rhode Island, and running a fishing lodge in Canada (long story). I have always baked, but besides my internships, I had never baked professionally before opening Little Tart.

What was the spark that ignited your passion for baking? Are you self taught? And are you influenced by any certain styles of baking?

I am self-taught, and grandma-taught. My grandmother was a wonderful baker. I think she did it very much out of necessity; with eleven children to raise it made more financial sense to bake her own bread than to buy it. She decided when I was ten years old that it was high time I learned to bake her apple pie. She gave me a rolling pin, and that was that; from then on, I was the family baker. I have always loved dough, and the challenges it presents. It is different every day, depending on the humidity, flour, temperature, etc. I developed that love of dough when I rolled out my first pie with my grandmother. I have moved away from her style of baking and toward a more French-inspired bent in the years since, and I think of my baking now as a combination of what I learned from her (care, her work ethic, dedication to feeding people you care about), and what I learned in France (layering butter into dough, more elegant pastry architecture). I think of my work as "French grandma" pastries. I want it to be elegant and smart, but I want you to see the work that went into it. I don't like overly-pretty pastries, or pastries that look too pretty to eat! I'm aiming for something satisfying, and generous.

What inspires your sweet and savory creations? Do you have any particular favorites? (Mine is your salted peanut butter cocoa nib cookie!)

I am inspired by pastry chefs and savory cooks everywhere I go. I read cookbooks voraciously, and eat my way through every city I visit. I will be inspired by a flavor combination or a certain ingredient, and then think about how I can bring it to what we do at Little Tart. More than anything though, I am inspired by the produce and fruit that we have access to in Georgia. The most exciting moment of the year is when friends and foragers show up at the shop with service berries and figs and mulberries. I am challenged to use these hyper-local ingredients in my food, and when it works, I am so proud! 

It's very hard to pick favorites, but here are a few: our croissants (which I try to improve every day -- they are so difficult to make correctly), the apple cheddar turnover, and the galette with whatever fruit is in season.

What led to you and Octane Coffee sharing a joint space at the Jane?

Tony and Diane Riffel (who own Octane) were looking at space in the Jane at the same time as I was. The landlord suggested that we talk about our products, since our shops would be next to each other. We decided that it would be much more exciting to our customers if we didn't bother to put up a wall. We wanted to offer a place where you get the best coffee and pastry in Atlanta, in one transaction. I'm confident that we have built that experience with our joint space, and we have such great regulars in Grant Park! It's been amazing to work with Tony and Diane, since I have such respect for their brand. It's pretty killer for me personally that I get to drink a perfect cortado every day.

How did the decision come about to expand to Krog Street Market and what can customers expect to see / taste there from you? Will you still keep your space at the Jane? 

I will definitely keep my space at the Jane with Octane! Grant Park is our home, and all of our production will still happen in our kitchen at the Jane. Krog Street Market (which is literally down the road from my house) will allow us to reach my other favorite neighborhoods in town, and we couldn't resist setting up there, since some of our favorite chefs are involved (Todd Ginsberg, Kevin Ouzts, Asha Gomez, Jeni Britton-Bauer to name a few). We'll transport things to our space at Krog Street chilled, and then bake them off there. This means that you'll be able to get a just-out-the-oven Little Tart croissant in both Grant Park and on Krog Street. We're excited! We'll also be the sole coffee purveyor at Krog Street, and will continue our partnership with Octane, this time through selling their locally-roasted coffee and espresso out of our market stall.

 Are there additional interesting happenings / upcoming news for you on the horizon for 2014?

Market season starts in April, and we can't wait! Our production really ramps up then, and so many great produce and fruit concurrently come into season. It's a great time to be baking in Atlanta, and we get to see old market regulars and vendors we love. Spring is our favorite time in Atlanta! Otherwise, 2014 is going to be all about making Krog Street the very best it can be, and about expanding our menu at the Jane with new pastries. I'm headed to Paris in April -- my first trip back since before the bakery first appeared at farmers markets in 2010. I am beyond excited. I am going to revisit all of my favorite bakeries from years past, and I am certain I'm going to be inspired to bring back some new deliciousness to ATL.

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