The retail downturn propelled Randell Dodge, a handbag designer for Ralph Lauren, Barney’s and Bergdorfs, to start fresh economically at age 50 and, in a sense, reconnect to a sweeter past. She began baking pies perfected as a child for her large family. The 100-square foot kitchen in her Bedford cottage became an oven for organic tarts and cookies made using only local ingredients. When 250 orders came in, Randell needed help to go from baker to bakery owner. Thanks to a loan from Community Capital, Randell renovated a turn-of-the-century brick shell, without plumbing or electricity, opposite the Irvington train station into the Red Barn Bakery. She now employs seven, added award-winning vegan and gluten-free treats to her menu, and supports local, organic creameries, farms, growers and orchards.
Trained as a painter at Bennington, Randell’s strong visual sense perhaps explains why her tarts and galettes steal hearts before a bite is taken. Once bitten, the simplicity of the ingredients—a chocolate tart made with dark organic chocolate, heavy cream, eggs, vanilla, agave and salt—call to mind the texture of a grown-up chocolate mousse and the taste of childhood’s chocolate pudding. Word of mouth is understandably strong.
A Long Island native, fifth in a family of six children, she grew up near Mattituck, scrambling under local brambles for wild strawberries and blueberries and in neighbors’ orchards for ripe apples and peaches that she turned into mad pies for family meals. When she decided to literally bag designing accessories, weary of chasing down payments and facing poor credit resulting from retail buyers who defaulted, Randell transformed her Bedford, NY cottage into an organic kitchen, making almond biscotti and molasses cookies for Mount Kisco Seafood and Stone Barns. Now, in her own venue, the Red Barn Bakery in Irvington, a renovated industrial building with sandblasted walls, chalked notes on blackboard menus, and windows salvaged from the old Lord and Burnham’s 19th-century greenhouse factory, Ms. Dodge explains how she went from a baker to bakery owner:
How did you get into baking?
I started making pies when I was 12. Once I converted my small cottage inBedford—the kitchen wasn’t even 100 square feet—into a catering kitchen with home certification, I made pies locally. That first Thanksgiving I got orders for 250 pies in less than 24 hours. Getting a commercial oven became a necessity.
Once you started baking, was it love at first bite?
I’ve always loved baking. I was proud of working as a Creative Director for Nine West’s handbag division, taking the job, getting on a plane to Korea three weeks later, and, in a matter of a few months launching a line that generated $6 million in sales. But I didn’t like not getting paid when I launched my own label. I found myself baking instead of designing bags. I turned 50 and sort of had to follow the dream.
How did you get your business off the ground?
I started baking in 2008 when I couldn’t find a local organic bakery—bakeries just weren’t using local and organic ingredients. My flour comes from upstate New York, the goat cheese in my tarts comes from Rainbeau Ridge and Beltaine Farms in Connecticut, my apples are from Hepworth Farms in upstate New York, rhubarb from a local grower, mushrooms from a farm in Pennsylvania. Even with moving the business from my kitchen to a barn on the property, and getting certified as organic, I needed a store front. After getting my business plan together, I realized that the handbag legacy was a less than stellar credit score. Community Capital provided start up capital and business coaching. I found a great space initially in Beacon. But when we researched the demographics, it was too far from the city, too reliant on weekend tourists with less than reliable traffic from weekday residents, and too far from Mt Kisco Seafood and Stone Barns, my biggest customers at the time. Eventually I heard about this space and came to see this blown out, brick auto body garage from the turn of the century, with raw walls and no plumbing. Community Capital approved a loan—for the renovation—after the site visit. We renovated it with salvaged factory windows, so there’s a sense of intimacy in the eating area and a sense of air and space in the back where I bake.
And the name Red Barn Bakery?
Red barns remind me of Vermont and Long Island, and struck the right chord.
How did your business evolve?
I still use local and organic ingredients, but I am also becoming known for vegan and gluten-free cookies, breads (which are made to order) and tarts. I’m preparing a gluten-free section of the bakery.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
Walk before you run, but don’t be afraid to take risks.
When did you know you’d arrived?
When a friend from the garment industry in New York City walked through the bakery doors after visiting Stone Barns and purchasing my Gluten Free Breakfast Cookie. She wanted to see where this place ‘Red Barn Bakery’ was and when she saw me said ‘Randy, do you work here?” and I said ‘No, I own it.’
It’s still difficult when it’s just one person, so staffing is an issue. Next would a green roof initiative, so I can teach local children how to grow vegetables. My original strategic plan called for three different locations where local farming is prolific and where there is readily available organic produce, so perhaps a location in the Hamptons and maybe one in Manhattan.