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A Blog is Born, March 14, 2020
In 2009, my wife, Joy, and I founded the Smith Island Baking Company in a tiny converted grocery store on Smith Island, Maryland. Our goal was to make America’s premier bakery, sharing Smith Island Cakes with the world.
It was an ambitious dream, but over the past ten years our dream has become a reality. Today, you can can find our Smith Island Cakes and other treats wherever people gather for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and family events.
As the bakery has grown, so has our family. When we founded the bakery, our daughters, Evelyn and Kathryn, were three and two. Evelyn is now 14, Kathryn is 13, and we have been blessed with the addition of five sons - Will (11), Hayes (9), McCallum (6), James (4) and Jack (2). The four older kids help at the bakery and with social media. The younger ones are unofficial taste testers. One day last year, we woke up and realized our business has grown into a family business. This blog and podcast tell our story.
Joy and I were married in 2004, but it wasn’t until February, 2009 that we ate our first Smith Island Cake. We lived in the DC suburbs, and were driving to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for my Mom’s birthday. On the way we stopped at a bakery for a birthday cake. There was a small sign on the wall ‘‘Smith Island Cakes sold here’’. I grew up on the Eastern Shore, but had never heard of Smith Island Cakes. We bought it and loved it. It was Chocolate Peanut Butter.
The year before, in 2008, I had graduated from business school. While I was in business school, my dream was to found an investment company, call it the Plimhimmon Group after a farm that was special to my late father, and invest in small companies.
After eating that first Smith Island Cake, I travelled to Smith Island, and learned the only bakery on the island was a tiny operation, making a few cakes a day for tourists. They were planning not to reopen the next year. So I met with some islanders, and we decided to start a company.
Smith Island, Maryland, was settled by the British in the 1600’s. It remains the only inhabited island group in the Chesapeake Bay. It comprises three villages, Tylerton, Ewell and Rhodes Point, is inhabited by about 250 people and located 10 miles off shore. Ferry service is limited, sometimes only offering one trip a day.
Smith Island Cakes have been made since the 1800’s, when women on the island would send them with their husbands on the autumn oyster harvest. The cakes were a symbol of community and togetherness, meant to remind the men of the community they had left behind. Smith Island Cakes were the perfect way for the watermen’s families to remind them they were loved and missed, and to ensure them of their prayers for a successful harvest and a safe reunion.
The Maryland legislature named Smith Island Cakes the state dessert in 2008, but Smith Island Cakes were still primarily a locally known delicacy.
Smith Island, and broader Somerset County, have always had economies that rely on exports, predominantly seafood, and tourism. They also had, and continue to have, among the lowest GDP’s per capita in Maryland.
By combining the cake and it’s amazing history, my love of food and passion for hospitality, and my wife’s computer science and engineering background to manage our web site, we set out to build our business.
We knew our company would help the local economy and create jobs. Just as importantly, we would get to do what we love, and use food to connect people. In short, we saw an opportunity to create our dream job.
On June 24, 2009, we baked our first cake. Sales in our first month were $248.50. Starting a bakery on a tiny island in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay was an ambitious undertaking for sure, and it would require passion, perseverance and patience.
Since then, we have shipped hundreds of thousands of cakes, pints of ice cream, tins of fudge, and cake bites to customers in all 50 states and around the world.
Founding the bakery was a perfect combination of influences, events, people and timing over the course of our lives.
I’ve always loved food, cooking and baking. My dad and his brothers all cook and bake. My Dad, Uncle Dan, Uncle Bob and Uncle Jack always made breads, baked goods, and treats for the extended family to enjoy. I have a degree in economics, an MBA in finance, and a decade of experience as a risk manager and commodity trader.
My first job was in a restaurant. I worked in restaurants through high school and college. I met my wife, Joy, at a birthday dinner, one evening in 2003, and I knew she was the one for me at a wedding later that same year - you guessed it - over dessert. We’ve even got the photo - below.
The wedding photographer took a photograph of the bride’s sister and her date at the rehearsal dinner. It happened to catch the moment when Joy and I we’re getting to know each other.
At the time, I was a portfolio manager for a large energy company in Baltimore. Joy was an engineer designing cell phone towers for phone companies. Joy is an electrical engineer by training, but she is from a very scientific family. Her parents met at Cornell, and all three of her brothers have advanced degrees in medicine, engineering or math.
Joy was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She still is. Joy finally agreed to go out with me in February, 2004. After our first date, my roommates told me they thought Joy looked like the actress Andie McDowell.
High praise for sure. My reply? ‘‘Andie McDowell wishes. You know who I think she looks like? My wife.’’
They knew I was serious. We were married later that year.
Our kids are getting older, and they love watching TV shows and listening to podcasts about entrepeneurs and businesses. As we review the past ten years, and look forward to the future, we thought this would be a good time to share more of our story.
Every family business has a story. This is ours. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it half as much as we have enjoyed living it.
Onward and upward,
Brian and Joy Murphy