4 bakers. 1 kitchen. Macon arts center’s collective has turned competitors into ‘family’

Walking into the Mill Hill Community Arts Center, a whiff of fresh-baked cakes and cookies may reach a visitor’s nose.

Heading toward the kitchen in the back of the center, sounds of spatulas sliding across metal bowls and the hum of ovens and refrigerators fill the air.

The Mill Hill Bakers Collective members are hard at work producing cakes and goodies for their individual businesses.

Adriana Horton, owner of Oh Honey Baking Co. and founder of the collective, said she reached out to J. R. Olive at the Macon Arts Alliance about using the center’s kitchen because she didn’t want to continue working out of her house.

She said she made a proposal, submitted it to Olive, the project director for the Macon Arts Alliance, and Julie Wilkerson, executive director. They said yes to her idea of creating the bakers collective.

She started working at the center in February and brought in more bakers over the past six months.

“Initially, the idea of working in a kitchen with a bunch of other people that do the exact same thing that you do, like yes, we are in competition with each other. We get inquiries from the same people for wedding cakes all the time, but it is such an amazing community, and I’m just so thankful to have them in my life, and I’m amazed that they weren’t people that I had in my life before,” Horton said.

Olive said the Macon Arts Alliance took on the Mill Hill Community Arts Center and revitalized it as a community space. He said they reached out to the community to see how they could make the center a place the community could use, and the community’s response was that they wanted a kitchen.

However, Olive said they hit regulatory blocks when they tried to make it a community kitchen. He said bakers aren’t under the same regulations as caterers and restaurants, so a bakers collective was a good alternative.

“The bakers leasing that space is one of the ways that Macon Arts is able to make that place sustainable and offer it for other events,” Olive said.

Horton said she looked at commercial kitchen spaces to lease and other shared kitchen opportunities, but none were as affordable as the collective. As a baker, she buys items like flour, eggs, sugar, extracts, cake boards and more on a weekly to bi-weekly basis.

Working in a collective can also be an advantage if members run out of certain ingredients.

On Wednesday, Mary Virginia Gage, owner of Mary Virginia Cakes, forgot to bring extra egg whites, and Horton offered some of hers.

“It’s working out really well, and I enjoy the camaraderie. We’ve all gotten to be friends,” Gage said. “I think the collective is a great idea. Hopefully, it’ll be here for years to come.”

The first three bakers of the collective were brought together by new and past relationships.

Lisa Shepley, owner of LisaMae Cakes, moved her business to Mill Hill in July. She knew Gage in Atlanta before moving to Macon.

Macon Magazine asked Shepley to be in an article about female bakers and when the article came out, she thought it would be a great opportunity to get a photo with all of the other female bakers included.

Two of those bakers were Gage and Horton, introduced to each other through Macon Magazine’s owner, Susannah Maddux. Gage said she was ready to move her business out of her house, and the collective was the perfect opportunity.

Moving to a smaller space was an adjustment for Shepley, but it was the perfect timing for her and her business because she was already looking for a new location.

“It’s really nice to have somebody to brainstorm with sometimes and bounce things off,” she said. “We all support each other.”

The collective’s newest baker is Whitney Cunningham of Sugar Soiree Baking Co.

“It becomes a nice community story especially when people are working together. A lot of times you think businesses in the same industry existing together, they’re obviously going to be in competition, but really this is a collaborative effort, and everybody’s really working really well together,” Olive said.

Horton said the Mill Hill Bakers Collective will be selling goodies at Macon Arts Alliance’s Macon Wine & Arts Festival this weekend. They are also planning a Mill Hill Bake Sale for Oct. 29 and a Central City Bake Off Nov. 5.

“It’s going better than I could’ve possibly wished for it to go. I wasn’t anticipating people who are so well established to trust me and join me in this space, so I’m very thankful,” she said. “It feels like family.”

Horton said they are looking to add a fifth person to the collective who wants to work on a part-time basis.

Rent is $375 for a space, but a part-time position is half the price. Rent comes with a dry storage space, work station, fridge space and freezer shelves as well as all the cleaning supplies for the space. To apply, message the collective on their Facebook page.

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Jenna Eason is a multimedia reporter at The Telegraph and creates serviceable news around food, culture and people who make a difference in the Macon community. Jenna joined The Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2018 with a journalism degree.