Omega Artisan Baking Still Going Strong
Amy Lozier opened Omega Artisan Baking in the North Market a little over six years ago, and she still remains extremely excited about her business venture. “Once I start talking about bread, it’s hard to get me to stop,” she stated last week prior to an interview on the topic. We sat down to discuss the evolution of her business over the course of those six years, but Amy also provided some great information and resources for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
Walker Evans: Let’s start by rewinding to 2003. Tell us about what got you started and why you chose to open a bakery in the North Market.
Amy Lozier: I had been baking bread for awhile, but I was working in restaurants. I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing people who let me do a lot of things. After I left the last restaurant I worked for, my friend Robin who ran the older produce place in the North Market said that I should come work for her and make soups and salads. So I did that and had a lot of fun, and that’s how I got to know people in the North Market a bit better.
I’ve been shopping at the North Market for most of my life. One of my very first memories was being carried into the Quonset Hut by my grandfather. My mother shopped here, and the first public place I ever took my daughter was the North Market. So, we’ve always been market shoppers. Working at the market was different, but I got to know the people here and they got to know me. During that time, Cameron Mitchell opened a bakery in the market after Tapatio left. It was only open for nine months before they closed.
A friend had told me that they were closing, and that night while I was having dinner with my family, I told them that I was thinking about opening a bakery in the North Market, and everyone wanted to know what was wrong with me. I’ve never been known for getting up early. It seemed like something that was of reach, but I took some classes with SCORE, which was fantastic, and I wrote up a business plan. When I presented the business plan here at the market, they actually turned the first version of it down. I was very upset, as you can imagine, but I worked with Dave and Peggy on it. My first proposal was for a small stand; less than half the size of what we have right now. They said that they wanted me to think a little bigger, and they were willing to help me. So that was wonderful. They cut down the space for me for the first year so that it wouldn’t have such a large rent, and the agreement was that at the end of one year I would take the rest of the corner space, and I did.
So, in the beginning it was just two part time people and myself. I was very confident at first, but it was also very hard. I’ve had cause to remember this with Hania’s recently opening and watching at those guys on their opening day. I remember the night before I opened, just lying awake in bed. I had to be here at 2:30 in the morning, and all I could think was “Oh my god, what if no one wants this bread? What am I doing?” But there was work to do, so I put those thoughts aside and got through it.
After the first year I expanded and after the third year I expanded again. I love the North Market. I’m a big fan. I love the shoppers here. There have been people from the very beginning who would come in and tell me that they tried certain breads at a friend’s house and that they had to drive down from the suburbs to buy more. This was a major part of our business. There are so many people around here who are so kind and generous.
WE: It must be difficult to add and remove items from a menu with such an early onset of dedicated customers looking for very specific things. Have you been able to change your offerings at Omega much in the past six years?
AL: Ha! We’ve changed it completely! In the beginning we only offered Rustic French, Italian, Whole Wheat, and Challah breads, plus a couple of desserts. I think that was about it. In those days we didn’t even do a sourdough. I’d send people to Rigsby’s for it. But after awhile I hired a baker and he said that we really need to offer a sourdough, so we worked on it and now we do a great European-style sourdough.
Everything since then has been built on from those basics. I’d love to say that I came up with everything that we have, but I’m so fortunate to have the most wonderful people to work with and almost all of them have brought something that remains on the menu. I encourage people to think about what they’d like to see here. Somebody will come up with a great idea and we’ll try it out. This year we actually started selling soups to expand some of our lunch business.
WE: Yeah, there is a balance to maintain at the North Market between those lunch or dinner customers and those who are shopping for groceries to take home. Would you say that most of your customers are more of the latter?
AL: Yes, I think people think of us more in terms of a “grocery” type of market vendor. Of course, grocery stores have gotten a lot better at doing some of the things that the North Market has always done, but it’s still not the same experience as buying something from the person who made it, or the person who chose those the products they are offering. That’s what I love about this place as a shopper. When you go to the grocery store, you pretty much see the same thing each day, and here you don’t. Vendors will try out different products, and if you happen to stop in on a day when they’re trying something new, you get to taste it and tell us what you think.
WE: It certainly is a great way to get instant feedback.
AL: It is, and I think that for a lot of people, that’s fun. It is for me!
WE: I thought it was interesting that you said that idea for Omega came to you one night at the dinner table. It’s easy to dream up these ideas, but few people actually go through with it. It’s always inspiring to hear someone who can take that idea and turn it into a successful business. Do you have any advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
AL: Yes, I do: SCORE. It’s a group of retired and still-working business people who are extremely helpful. They teach classes and provide counseling. I took the basic three classes and then a couple more. One of them was an all-day class for around $50 that featured all kinds of business people sharing their experiences with you. They also do some free one-on-one counseling. They try to match you up with someone who might have a background in your kind of business or something comparable. At one point I met with a woman who was in promotions and she spent an hour with me one-on-one. There’s a whole class on writing a business plan. It was the best thing I ever did.
I also got a lot of information from the Library. There is a lot of good business information at the Downtown Library, and the staff is wonderful at helping you find what you’re looking for.
The other piece of advice I’d give is for someone to work in the business that they want to go into. I used to be in book publishing, and I can’t tell you how many people would say “Oh, I love to read so much that I should open a book store”. No, if you love to read then you should go to the library or buy books! Reading isn’t a business. I like to bake bread, but that’s not a business by itself. Thankfully I found that I liked the business aspect as well. Of course, there are times when I think to myself that I just want to put everything else aside and just mix dough. That’s my favorite part of the baking process. But I really do like the business aspect. I worked in restaurants before I opened my own business. It’s was hard work, but I did it and I learned a lot in doing that. I didn’t make a fortune at it, but came out of it with a lot of good information that I could use. I suggest that entrepreneurs find someplace to work or even to do job-shadowing. There are plenty of businesses that would do that if you asked them. I’d never suggest that someone open a business that they’ve never been involved with in any level.
WE: That sounds like it should be common sense, but that’s actually very good advice.
AL: I should add that there’s also a passion involved. If you work for a large corporation, it’s good if you’re passionate about your job, but it’s not necessary. To open your own business, it’s absolutely necessary. You don’t do it for the great hours or for the money… you have to have passion, because that’s what will keep you going when two people in a row call off sick and you’re looking at three shifts in a row with no break. If you don’t have the passion, then you’re going to just quit at the first sign of difficulty.
WE: You mentioned how the offerings at Omega have evolved over the years, so looking ahead, is there anything new that you’d like to do, or plan on doing? Are there any industry trends that you follow?
AL: Artisan bread has actually become a much bigger deal than it was six years ago. In Seattle and Portland and other cities there have been artisan bakeries for a long time, but when I started in Columbus there really weren’t too many others. When I started on my own at home, there weren’t even really any cookbooks on how to bake this kind of bread. I had to reinvent the wheel every time I wanted to do something new, so that aspect has gotten a little easier.
I think the thing that has surprised me the most over the years is that our customers actually drive our direction more than national or local trends. Cupcakes are very popular right now, and we’ve always offered them, but I’m not going to change over to a complete cupcake bakery. That wouldn’t make sense. When I opened in 2003 it was at the height of that whole low-carb fiasco… the South Beach Diet and Atkins Diet. That was such a huge trend. Everyone thought I was crazy to open a bakery at that time, but what I found out was that most people weren’t following those diets. The people who did follow them would come to Omega when they wanted to cheat on their diets. If they’re going to eat carbs, they might as well be tasty carbs!
So really we tend to stay away from trends a little bit just because we respond more to what our customers want. Since we’re still such a small operation, I don’t have to make 300 loaves of something per day to make it successful. If I have just a few people who want a particular item, I’ll do it.
WE: So if anybody stops by Omega and doesn’t find something particular that they’re looking for, they should just ask for it?
AL: They should definitely ask for it! We do a lot of day-to-day special items as well. We only make our Pretzel Rolls on Friday & Saturday because we have more customers those days and they’re expensive to make. One of our guys thought up a Praline and Bacon Scone, and our pastry chef Martha makes pralines. She’s from South Carolina and it’s her mother’s recipe. Blues Creek makes a great double-smoked bacon that we use for that scone. We only do those on Saturday. So if you don’t see it during the week, ask. And if you need a few of them for a special occasion, we can often do them during the week too.
WE: Amy, thanks
again for taking the time out of your busy schedule today to share your story and your insight with us.
AL: My pleasure!
More information about Omega Artisan Baking can be found online at NorthMarket.com.
Photos by NorthMarket.com