Crumb and Clover Brings a Taste of Joy to Leesburg
Long time baker Rachel Franco recently founded Crumb and Clover to bring delicious cookies and joy to the DC area. Even with all the challenges that come with launching a business during a pandemic, Rachel knew this was the right move for her. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel to hear more of her story and what’s next for her cookie pick up business in Leesburg, Virginia.
Your professional background is in teaching and education but you've been baking since you were little. What made you want to turn your love for baking into a business?
I’ve loved baking for as long as I can remember. After working in educational technology in Alexandria for over four years, my family and I moved out to Leesburg. At first, I was ready to be a full-time stay at home mom to my two little ones. After a few months of that (and during COVID no less), I had the itch to have something of my own that wasn’t entirely focused on my kids.
I started thinking of what would make me happiest and baking has always been that for me. Since I was little, I had always talked about opening my own bakery/cafe. I had always wanted the main character’s life from the movie Chocolat and just recently, I realized that there was a way to turn my love of baking into a career (without having to move to France and fall in love with Johnny Depp). I could have my very own version of Chocolat by doing something as simple as opening a bakery out of my home. So, I went into a black hole of internet research and figured out all of the steps I needed to take to make my at-home bakery a reality. Another part of my motivation to make this dream happen was the fact that that having my own bakery business would also allow me to still be at home (aren’t we all these days though?) and with my kids just as much as ever.
How did you choose cookies as the focus for Crumb and Clover? Do you plan to expand to other baked goods in the future?
Tollhouse Slice and Bake cookie dough has never tasted great to me, so I learned from a young age how to make my own cookies. From there, I took the leap into all sorts of baking. Earlier this year – after having my second baby – I created a food Instagram to document a project I started of teaching myself french pastry. My Instagram handle was originally called “Perfecting Pastry” and I didn’t create it for followers. Instead, I wanted to really dive into learning difficult pastry techniques. After a few months of baking things like tarte aux fruits rouges with pâte brisée fondante, I just wanted to bake simple and delicious desserts.
Once quarantine hit, I found a lot of joy in stepping back from French pastry and baking warm comfort food – like cookies. Then, when I made the decision that I wanted to turn my love of baking into a business, I knew that I needed to make cookies – the food that brings me the most happiness.
The very first order I took at the end of June was a custom order for a baby shower. While that customer did order some cookies, she also really wanted some decorated Rice Krispie treats and pretzel rods. I was overjoyed to receive my first order and knew that I could make everything she wanted and make it well, so I accepted the order.
After that, more people started to hear about Crumb and Clover Bake Shop. I stopped taking custom orders to be able to focus exclusively on my cookie menu and devote all of my energy to making the most delicious cookies I could.
What has been the biggest challenge or surprise while launching your business during COVID-19?
Since COVID really took off here in March, I’ve gone to the store less than 5 times. My family and I take it super seriously, so I wanted to make sure the business did too.
Because of that, from the beginning, I implemented mask-wearing during baking and handling the product as well as rigorous cleaning/disinfecting and contactless pickup. I also had to start really planning how I wanted to get my ingredients to limit the number of trips I had to take to the store.
One bright spot of opening a cookie business during quarantine is that people need things that bring them joy right now. We can’t go out like we used to. So people are looking for joy in new places. Cookies have been a great treat for customers to buy for their families, friends, loved ones, and for themselves to have right now, even more than usual. The Quarantine Fifteen is definitely real, but we are all giving ourselves permission to indulge and enjoy the little things!
What is your favorite thing to bake outside cookies? What are your favorite flavors to bake with?
I am 100% a huge chocoholic. If I could, I would have chocolate every single day. Because of this, I love baking with chocolate and making really rich, luxurious desserts. Outside of cookies, if I have the time, I enjoy making anything that has a deep chocolate flavor. I also really enjoy baking cream puffs.
You mention in your bio that you have spent a lot of time in Europe. While you were there, were you inspired by any baking/food trends or techniques?
In Spain, I was teaching English in bilingual schools and honestly, had very little time to bake. That, combined with the fact that my little apartments there rarely had ovens and that Spanish pastries are super cheap and super available, baking was something I missed a lot during my four years there. What I did learn about food while over there was that the simplest food can be the absolute most delicious thing you’ve ever had. I ate some of the best food (sweet and savory) while I lived there and miss it a lot. I’m excited for the holiday season to maybe try incorporating some Spanish flavors into my menu. They have these little cookies called polvorones that are everywhere in December. I would love to try a version of them.
What is your favorite cookie on the menu right now? Will there be any seasonal cookies on the fall or winter holiday menu?
People ask me this all the time and I just can’t answer. Without trying to oversell or exaggerate, every time I eat one of my cookies, I think “oh, THIS is my favorite flavor.” Then I eat another type and I think the same thing. It’s like trying to choose a favorite kid – I just can’t! That said, chocolate chip cookies have always been how I measure a bakery. I think ours are incredible and I could eat them all day every day.
I plan on bringing in at least two new flavors every month and rotating out two flavors into “retirement.” Looking ahead to the fall and winter, I have a whole list of ideas that I will start experimenting with to create new flavors. Pumpkin, apple, caramel, mint, eggnog. The possibilities are endless and I’m so excited to work on making even more awesome cookies for our menu.
Do you have a physical store in Leesburg or are you selling out of your home?
I am selling out of my home in Leesburg. We are a fully licensed LLC and have been inspected by the Virginia Department of Food and Agriculture. Selling out of my home has been an incredible way to start this business. Once a customer places an order on our website, we do a contactless porch pick up in Leesburg. The customer chooses a designated date/time t for their pick up. Because of COVID, this has really proven to be a great system. One day, I would love to have a storefront and be able to meet my customers face-to-face!