Fans of local farm and food markets all know a secret, “don’t sleep late.” If you want to acquire your favorite local products on a Saturday morning, arrive at the market early. This tip goes for anyone shopping at the Charlottesville City Market, especially if your goal is to enjoy an Orange Dot Baking sandwich for breakfast.
Strolling down the market aisle, I spy Orange Dot Baking. I am intrigued by the unique sandwiches of the morning. Do I want The Figgy Piggy or The Parisian? The Figgy Piggy has prosciutto, fig jam, goat cheese, and arugula on a Rustic Rosemary Major Muffin. The Parisian has egg, fresh sage, brie cheese, sliced apple on a Super Seeded English Muffin. I can barely contain my excitement to see that Orange Dot Baking Major Muffins are all Gluten Free. I am the only GF member of the family; so, I am always looking for products that I can enjoy while the whole family loves them. The Orange Dot Baking Major English Muffin is that product. But if you want to enjoy a custom sandwich, you better arrive at the Charlottesville City Market early.
In 2015, Susan Freeman Weiner started baking Orange Dot Muffins in her kitchen and selling them at the Charlottesville City Market. It was not long before the muffins gained a cult-like following. In 2019, Susan won the Local Food Hub (www.localfoodhub.org) Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
It has been a busy four years for Orange Dot Baking. From the local Saturday market to Fresh Direct home delivery in major East Coast urban hubs, the business is growing at a fast pace. I doubt that the team at Orange Dot Baking is sleeping late on any day.
Behind the Scenes of a Virginia Entrepreneur
As we head into the next, Orange Dot Major Muffins can be found far from the Charlottesville City Market and local stores. Fans can now find the muffins in Whole Foods markets in Washington DC, and Fresh Direct is delivering muffins to homes in the North East. The growth is fueled by the passion for creating a great Gluten Free product and a desire to provide employment to Central Virginia locals.
I reached out to Susan Freeman Weiner to learn about what it is like Behind the Scenes at Orange Dot Baking.
Kim: I read that your son has celiac disease, and that inspired your recipe for the first Gluten-Free Orange Dot Major Muffin. I, too, must adhere to a GF diet. One of the attributes of the muffin that I like is that they are so versatile. From a sandwich to a muffin-base mini pizza, there are so many ways to enjoy a Major Muffin. (And they are enjoyed by the whole family—even those that can eat gluten) Tell us about creating the recipe in your home kitchen. How long did it take, and was an XL English Muffin always the plan?
Susan: Thanks for asking! Creating the recipe took several years, and built upon a decade of gluten-free baking for my son. I had three objectives–great taste, fabulous texture, and healthy ingredients. And then, of course, I created the flavors that my family and friends wanted to enjoy!
In order to make the bread moist, I developed a unique baking process that uses custom made pans and a lot of steam. Our English muffins are cooked almost like a steamed dumpling.
Kim: Tell us why your recipe and the ingredients that you use are unique in the gluten-free market.
Susan: I use only the ingredients that I bake with at home–organic butter, organic eggs, and extra virgin olive oil. We don’t use canola oil or any gums, like xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is actually black mold, and it gives a lot of people an upset stomach–they just don’t know what’s causing it. It’s used as a binder. Instead of xanthan or other gums, we use psyllium husk and chia seeds, which add both protein and fiber.
Not only does our bread taste great, it’s better for you.
Kim: I want to ask you about something that I know is important to both you and to the growth of Orange Dot Baking. I want to ask you about the importance of providing employment to locals. With the growth of your business, how many do you now employ? And tell us about your dedication to providing employment and opportunities to the local community.
Susan: I began Orange Dot Baking Company as a way to give back to the community. I think we all know that if you don’t have a good job, it’s pretty hard to put the other pieces of life together. I was inspired by Ridge Schuyler’s report in 2015 called the Orange Dot Report about poverty in Charlottesville and also by Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, which was created to provide employment in the local community.
Depending on the time of year, I employ 3 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees. I am currently looking for investors to help scale my business to the next level, so I can expand my impact on the community.
Kim: There are now several varieties of Major Muffins. They are baked in a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen, and they are sold online, through national chains and Fresh Direct. That is a lot of growth in four years. For the entrepreneurs (or want-to-be entrepreneurs) reading this story, give us one piece of advice. What is the one piece of business advice that you wish you had known four years ago?
Susan: Keep it simple—resist the temptation to create more than 4 products to put through wholesale distribution, and don’t forget to allocate money to marketing. It’s far more expensive than often anticipated.
Kim: What’s next for Orange Dot Baking? As we head into a new decade, what’s next for you, the company, and the Major Muffin?
Susan: I am really searching my heart about this right now. While I want to continue to expand my sales on the east coast as we are able, particularly through online grocery stores like Fresh Direct, which require a minimal amount of marketing, my heart is really with the local community in Charlottesville.
It gives me great pleasure to see people enjoy our bread and our sandwiches at the farmers market. Perhaps we will open an Orange Dot Café? In addition, I think I would enjoy teaching a class on entrepreneurship at the high school level.
Kim: And finally, not everyone reading this story can travel to the Charlottesville City Market to enjoy one of those gourmet sandwiches. How can they purchase muffins? What would be your favorite gourmet sandwich to create at home? Please, tell us how to make that sandwich.
Susan: There are lots of ways to purchase our bread, depending on where you live.
From anywhere in the U.S., our bread can be ordered online at www.orangedotbaking.com. In stores, our bread is sold frozen, and it can be found in many local stores in Charlottesville, including Rebecca’s Natural Food Store and Whole Foods. We are in many Whole Foods in DC, and Fresh Direct (www.freshdirect.com) provides home delivery in many parts of New York, and also Philly and DC. We are also in Ellwood Thompson’s and several smaller stores in Richmond. We are growing!
One of our bestselling sandwiches is the Figgy Piggy. It makes a wonderful lunch or dinner with a salad and a bottle of red wine.
Ingredients: Rustic Rosemary Major Muffin, 1-ounce goat cheese, 2 slices prosciutto, small bunch arugula, and 2 Tablespoons Fig Preserves.
Step 1: Thaw Major Muffin on the counter or in the microwave for 45 seconds
Step 2: Flip the Major Muffin inside out so that the soft, flat inside will be against the grill. This method ensures that the chef is not trying to brown the side of the muffin that is already brown. This is the secret to an awesome grilled Major Muffin!
Step 3: Layer prosciutto, goat cheese, and arugula on one side. Spread fig preserves on the other.
Step 4: Close sandwich and grill in a skillet over medium heat, flipping as it browns until warmed through.
Butter or olive oil may be used in the pan if desired for a crispier outside. For a vegetarian version, omit prosciutto and layer on other vegetables like roasted beets, eggplant, or red peppers.
If you love locally produced food, read about Virginia’s Finest
Susan, thank you for taking us Behind the Scenes of Orange Dot Baking. We always enjoy learning about Virginia-made products and talking to entrepreneurs, and we are fans of Major Muffin! I know that I will be getting up early Saturday morning to head to the Charlottesville City Market. The big decision is which Major Muffin sandwich I am going to enjoy.