Since Sliced Bread
Two local entrepreneurs are gaining attention for their back-to-basics approach to a grocery staple.
We’ve been to every part of New Orleans within a 30-mile radius, delivering the same product to people of all backgrounds. – Kathryn Conyers, co-owner of Viola Heritage Breads
Opening a business at the same time as the start of a worldwide pandemic may not be an ideal situation, but local entrepreneurs Kathryn Conyers and Carla Briggs have done just that, and they’re finding success.
“This is an exciting time [with our company], and there are a lot of unknowns,” said Briggs, who, together with Conyers launched Viola Heritage Breads from her mother’s kitchen in March. “I think within the pandemic, you lose all the fear. We said, let’s just jump in and see.”
Marrying Briggs’ culinary skills crafted by learning and training at Johnson and Wales University culinary school and baking bread at Emeril’s Restaurant with Conyers’ background in finance and law, the duo’s handmade sandwich bread has quickly gained devoted customers both locally and as far away as North and South Carolina and Pennsylvania, thanks in part to media attention on WWL-TV and outside the city with a writeup in The Tennessean newspaper.
“Sales have been good,” said Conyers. “We are at the point of return customers, and market customers are coming back.”
“We are getting more local out-of-towners, from Houma and Thibidoux, for example,” added Briggs. “The emails [we are receiving] are great. [Customers] always comment on how they love opening the box and smelling the bread first before even tasting it.”
Viola Heritage Breads currently includes cornbread, tea cakes and rolls, plus four varieties of sandwich breads — Ambition Brioche, Royalty DNA Whole Wheat, Collaboration Oats and Seeds and Rooted Sweet Potato Rosemary — which all have one thing in common.
“I could live off of PB&J’s,” said Conyers. “It has all the food groups. It’s a requirement that all of our breads make a great PB&J.”
The company has already been approached by a few local grocery stores and is in negotiations to provide wholesale bread to a few local restaurants, but their revenue currently lies in online and local sales.
Passionate in their desire to provide a nurturing, handmade product that evokes family and tradition, Conyers and Briggs deliver loaves themselves to porches, stoops and front doors all across the area.
You should know who makes the bread that is a part of your daily life. – Carla Briggs, co-owner of Viola Heritage Breads
“We are a part of great memories — something you don’t get from big companies that make the bread we eat. You should know who makes the bread that is a part of your daily life,” Briggs said. “Deliveries are super hard, with long hours, but then you get to see the nice lady waiting on the porch for her tea cakes. There is a very real experience with people wanting that connection with their food.”
The company is currently operating under Louisiana’s Cottage Food Law, and recently moved to a commercial kitchen as part of their relationship with Thalia Market inside Thalia Restaurant in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District. In addition to providing more space for additional production, the move has also allowed them to add a third person.
“We brought on another baker, Breanna Bolden, a chef from Nicholls State, an African-American woman,” said Conyers. “We wanted to be intentional on who we hire, how we develop them, and what they can add to the mix. Also, we think of her as having a shared experience. As Black women who have gone into white male-dominated environment in the kitchen, we have that shared experience and we also know it’s a safe space to encourage learning the craft.”
For Conyers, the biggest surprise about starting the business has been how it has connected the two with the community.
“We’ve been to every part of New Orleans within a 30-mile radius, delivering the same product to people of all backgrounds,” she said. “There is a common thread we have in some way. We can all relate in some way. It’s kind of a surreal thing. After we are done, we are like, ‘Wow, we are reaching a lot of different people with the same commonalities.’”
For Briggs, the business always comes back to the basics — a love of baking and a connection with the community.
“This is something we love to be doing. It’s bread, it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t come out perfect. [Kathryn and I] have different experiences, but we have joy and we are blessed to be able to do this. It’s also fun. I love baking bread, and that smell! I could be in a bad mood, and once that bread comes out, everything changes.”
Did you know
Louisiana’s Cottage Food Law allows home-based production of certain food items for companies with sales of less than $20,000 per year.
Bread, rolls and tea cakes from Viola Heritage Breads are priced between $8 and $12, and can be ordered in advance and picked up from the Thalia Market, 1245 Constance St., on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.- 1 p.m., or delivered across the Southshore for a $5 fee.
Titi’s Bread boxes, with two sandwich loaves and one sweet treat, are available for shipping across the U.S. via USPS, starting at $25.