Louisa Smith is a singer, an actress, a writer and, perhaps most notably, a small-business owner and baker for a local gluten-free bakery.
Smith’s journey to Good Seed Baking Co. was a long and winding path that started at local farmers markets under the name Bell and Whistle.
Smith began baking for local farmers markets in 2010 after acquiring rented kitchen space at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe.
Along with her friend Becky Savage, Smith took the markets by storm with the simple goal of earning extra income.
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“We were living here and could only find part-time work,” Smith said. “We needed to do something else and we were like, well this sounds like fun.”
Once Bell and Whistle grew in popularity at the markets, Smith decided to expand her line and obtain her own kitchen space.
What she discovered in her hunt was no ordinary bakery.
“I’d seen some cool articles about an ice cream parlor in Austin that operated out of an old trailer,” Smith said. “I thought that was really cool and then I saw this trailer come up on eBay for sale, an old vintage trailer out in Hollidaysburg. It was inexpensive, so I thought that was a good sign.”
After raising the money to buy and renovate the trailer, Smith set to work. She added a stainless-steel worktop and appropriate flooring and equipment.
“I essentially turned it into a commercial kitchen, which is easier to do in a trailer than in a building,” Smith said. “You don’t have to pass the building codes; you just have to pass the health codes.”
The idea to transition to all gluten-free products came from the popularity of Smith’s macaroons.
When Smith operated out of Webster’s, her focus was on conventional baked goods, but one particular product caught customers’ eyes.
“So I made croissants, cookies and stuff like that, but I also made macaroons, French almond meringue cookies, which are naturally gluten-free,” Smith said. “So, I’d put that on the sign — that they’re naturally gluten-free — and I got a lot of interest in them just because of that.”
Encouraged by this interest, Smith decided to designate her trailer as an entirely gluten-free facility.
The next step in Smith’s baking career arose from a mixture of friendship and fate.
Bob Ricketts, owner of Fasta & Ravioli Co., wanted to add gluten-free pasta to his menu and had recently moved his production to a larger shop, leaving his kitchen empty.
“Well I met Bob Ricketts and Laura Young, both at farmers markets, we were all vendors together, and we’d sort of casually talked about it for a couple years,” Smith said.
Flour can linger in the air for 24 to 48 hours, so Ricketts was unable to safely produce gluten-free pasta in the same facility as nongluten-free foods.
However, Ricketts moved a majority of his production to his shop in Pleasant Gap, leaving the State College store unused. Smith was struggling with a lack of space and wanted to expand.
The vendors saw their needs aligning and decided to act. Ricketts, Smith and Young joined forces as co-owners to turn Good Seed into a reality.
“Laura joined us as this great organizational force who has experience with business and helped us pull it together,” Smith said. “And that’s how all of this happened.”
Although the shop in the Fraser Street Mini Mall may appear small to some, Smith considers it spacious compared to the 6-by-10-foot trailer.
“People always say this place is small and I’m like, are you kidding? This place is great,” Smith said. “I can walk without hitting my head on things.”
Despite the obvious challenges of making gluten-free food, one of Smith’s goals for her products is to try and make them taste as similar to the non-gluten-free product as possible.
Gluten-free flour tends to go rancid more quickly than wheat flour, which can ruin food that sits on store shelves for long periods of time. In order to prevent this, ingredients are added to preserve the product, Smith said. So food that’s stored longer doesn’t taste very good, she said.
“And we do that with good-quality ingredients. We get fruit from local farmers, and our eggs come from a local farm so we can get really fresh ingredients that way.”
Using local, fresh ingredients is not Smith’s only trick involved in her enticing goods. Her other method for success is that she is not gluten-free.
Smith can taste the product she is imitating, making her products authentic representations.
“A lot of times you’ll eat something that’s gluten-free that was clearly made by somebody who has not had wheat in a long time,” Smith said. “It only vaguely resembles what they’re trying to make it taste like. Some of the stuff is perfectly good, it’s just not what it’s trying to be. The fact that I still can eat wheat-based products helps me to make better imitations.”
Smith’s philosophy behind her baking also influences how the end result tastes. Good Seed’s goal is not to make health food — the baked goods are filled with butter and other “real food,” Smith said, and that makes all the difference.
“It’s easy to find gluten-free trail mix bars and stuff like that that are fine, but they’re not what people miss necessarily,” Smith said. “So what I’m trying to do is re-create the food that people really miss.”
Certain products seem to especially grab customers’ attention.
“The buttermilk doughnut muffin has been a surprise sensation,” Smith said. “And the bread, because one of the things people miss the most is decent bread.”
In addition to her full-time baking career, Smith is the co-president of the North Atherton Farmers Market and the lead singer in Callanish, a local Celtic band.
Smith has been a member of Callanish for a few years, but has always been a fan of Celtic music. As an actor in the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, which often features Celtic music, Smith was familiar with the genre and felt confident about stepping into her role in the band.
“I just like to sing, it’s a way to relax,” Smith said. “It’s fun to stay on stage in some way since I’m not doing theater much anymore.”
A graduate of the Penn State School of Theatre, Smith has since decided the life of an actress did not entirely suit her.
In middle school and high school, Smith was heavily involved in theater and her love for it still exists, but not professionally.
“It’s just that I realized the lifestyle it requires was not for me,” Smith said, “especially the constant job searching and having to live in a large city.”
Baking, however, has always played a special role in her life.
“My love for baking is kind of a family thing,” Smith said. “My grandmother was always a big baker and my mother baked too, but my grandmother was especially good at pies and cookies ... she was always baking for special occasions.”
A fond memory of her grandmother’s molasses drop sugar and spice cookies inspired one of Smith’s first gluten-free creations.
“They remind me of her,” Smith said. “She lived in Texas, so it was a long trip down there, but she’d always have a few tins of them ready whenever we came to visit.”
Although Smith has been baking for years, producing baked goods on a larger scale comes with challenges.
As Smith prepared a batch of muffins, she measured and softened four pounds of butter, “which is a little bit different than what you’d do at home,” Smith said.
“Everyone wants to say, ‘Oh that’s so fun, working in a bakery, you get to bake cupcakes all day,’ and I’m like yeah, for 16 hours,” Smith said. “It feels a little different. It’s a totally different scale.”
Despite the difficulties that accompany running and owning a small business, Smith finds joy in her work.
“I like the creativity involved,” Smith said. “It’s fun to come up with new flavors of things and try new experiments. With gluten-free baking in particular, you have to do so much extra experimentation to make something work just right, so that’s very creative.”
Not only is there creativity involved in Smith’s skill, but precision, too.
Smith sees baking as a combination of creativity and science — she constantly experiments with flavors for her muffins, then measures the ingredients to the gram.
Smith sees Good Seed expanding to include an even wider variety of products and customers. Providing grocery stores and restaurants with her baked goods is one of Smith’s many goals for Good Seed. She also plans to add a line of sandwiches and begin selling dry mixes.
Future expansions include adding sugar-free options to the menu, but this addition is not an easy process. Gluten is a binding agent, as are eggs and sugar.
“So when you lose one binding agent, you start relying more on the others,” Smith said. “It’s already hard enough to get the vegan stuff done; I can’t even imagine trying to do it without sugar, too, but you know we’ll figure something out.”
The reward for Smith’s hard work and future plans to accommodate her clientele comes from the customers.
“I love seeing people who are excited about having more options,” Smith said. “I love when a kid will come in here who hasn’t ever been able to walk into a bakery and just order something. They have trouble believing that they’re allowed to have all of this stuff and they can choose whatever they want. It’s really rewarding to see that excitement.”