KINGSPORT - It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning last summer when Claudia St. John pulled into the farmer's market in downtown Kingsport and saw customers already lining up for her signature cinnamon rolls steaming fresh from the oven.
"At the farmer's market we couldn't possibly make enough cinnamon rolls to make everybody happy," said St. John. "We'd have customers waiting for us when we'd get there at 7 o'clock and we'd have other customers that would hand out cinnamon rolls while we unpacked the truck and set up our stand. We couldn't get unloaded fast enough."
St. John saw the ingredients of opportunity and decided to take a chance. In December, she opened her own business, the Rose Cottage Bakery, at 113 W. Market St. in downtown Kingsport.
Inside the small bakery, customers are tempted with a variety of aromas to satisfy the palate. Every day St. John prepares homemade wheat and white bread made from stone ground flour. On weekends, she expands the variety to include specialty breads such as sour dough, banana nut, zucchini, and rye with coarse ground pumpernickel and a salt and poppy seed crust.
"It's crusty on the outside and moist and chewy inside," she said.
For dessert, customers might opt for her decadent brownies made with cocoa imported from France. Other desserts include coffee cake, pound cake, yellow cake with caramel icing, angel food cake, pies, Danish pastries, and cookies.
"We make really healthy bread and decadent dessert," St. John said. "And everything is made from scratch."
St. John is new to Tennessee - she moved from Northern Kentucky to Del Rio in Cocke County last February to enjoy the mountain scenery.
In Kentucky and Southeast Indiana, she and her daughter Amanda had made a career baking their family recipes and those of their Amish friends. They sold their delicacies at a farmer's market in metropolitan Cincinnati, and had been named one of the top 10 local flavors in the Cincinnati area by Cincinnati Magazine.
She said she specializes in baked goods "your grandma used to make." Her daughter, now 23, has worked under the auspices of a European-trained pastry chef and "can do those fancy things," St. John said. Amanda now works at the Chocolate Fetish in Asheville, and helps her mother when she can, serving as a partner in the new Kingsport business.
St. John said her baking career came about quite by accident. She had rented a spot at a farmer's market next to the Ohio River and had planned to sell homegrown vegetables.
"But our garden didn't grow," St. John said.
She had paid $25 to rent the farmer's market space, and told her daughter - then 8 years old - they should try to get their money back by selling baked goods.
"So we made yeast rolls and banana cream pies and took them to a little street festival and we were sold out in an hour," St. John said. "I said, â€˜We might be on to something.' That was 15 years ago."
After moving to Cocke County last February, St. John started researching the region and discovered the farmer's market in downtown Kingsport.
"It only took two to three weeks to get a good foothold in there. I had a great summer and fall," she said.
Today, St. John operates the Rose Cottage Bakery five days a week - from Tuesday through Saturday - commuting from her home in Cocke County. The drive is more than 70 miles one way, taking an hour and a half, and St. John hopes to eventually move closer to Kingsport once her business is established.
"One thing at a time - we just managed to get open," she said.
The Rose Cottage Bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Daily offerings are limited due to lack of space, so St. John encourages customers to call a day ahead to request large orders or specific desserts.
"Of course I try to always have our cinnamon rolls and brownies," she said.
She also offers a limited lunch menu of boxed sandwiches and soups to go.
Orders are all carry out due to lack of an indoor seating area. The front of the business features a large awning covering the sidewalk, and St. John hopes to set up tables and chairs outside the bakery come summer.
For more information, call the Rose Cottage Bakery at (423) 246-7400.