Updated: Mar 24, 2021
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing these accomplished bakers, who are both making amazing food during this uncertain time. I learned a lot while speaking with them and of course, sampling their creations!
The creator of The Downstairs Kitchen, a wholesale baking company, makes some of the most delicious and aesthetically pleasing pastries that I've ever seen. Jan Holderness uses only the purest ingredients. Each pastry tastes like it was individually baked just for you. One of her specialties is the Ouefle - a crust less quiche - soufflé to-die for and which I first tasted at the Asbury Fresh market.
Raised in an entrepreneurial family by two extremely ambitious parents, she began her career as a six year old helping out in the family chocolate business. Jan has always had an interest in food and as a food science major in college her love of creating fresh, delicious foods continued. Although her professional career path may seem an odd choice, know that Jan continued throughout the years to cook, bake and cater small and large events for family and friends. One of three siblings, her sister is an accomplished and well know chef and her brother is a consultant in the candy industry. Food appears to be in the blood!
TDK is not a big operation, which might account for the pastries' amazing flavor. Jan offers vegan and gluten free creations as well. You really do have to try them to believe it! @thedownstairskitchen Jan gave me a condensed history of her career.
TSB: When did you start baking?
JH: I have always had a passion for cooking in general, not necessarily just baking. Baking is a retirement career for me, something fun that I enjoy. I worked in Government Defense Contracting full time for over 35 years, and still continue to do that on a part-time basis. I started baking professionally when COVID hit last March. I baked and donated pastries to Jersey Shore Hospital for several months and found that I really enjoyed it, so I decided to pursue it.
TSB: Continuing a passion for baking when you started out doing it for charity is an admirable trait, and it made me wonder if anyone else in the family has this entrepreneurial streak.
You mentioned the family candy biz - Does it still exist?
JH: My family owned a chocolate factory so I grew up working in the family business until after I graduated from college. My brother continued to run the business with my parents until about 10 years ago when everyone retired and moved to Florida.
TSB: Visions of Lucy & Ethel on the chocolate line comes to mind! Obviously that was great training ground.
TSB: What did you study, and what was your original career choice?
JH: I studied business and food science. I originally wanted to work in a test kitchen, but the recession in the early eighties had halted any hiring, so I joined the Army which led to my career in Defense Contracting.
TSB: Do you have partners?
JH: I do not have any partners. I have intermittent help in the kitchen and hired a back office business associate to set up the business and establish a ordering and audit system.
TSB: Okay, that's pretty amazing!
TSB: Do you take private orders - say for an individual birthday cake?
JH: I would refer you to E. Holland Sundries for cake baking! I specialize more in muffins, sweet & savory scones, coffee cakes, savory crostatas, and oeufles. I take private orders for Brunch Boxes, which is a minimum order of 6 pastries. The brunch boxes are particularly amazing, boasting beautiful sweet pastries alongside rich, savory offerings.
TSB: What are some of your most popular or requested items?
JH: Oeufle's are very popular, the smoked salmon w/goat cheese & a sour cream caper cup is one of the best sellers. Healthier muffins with multigrain flours, seeds, and fruit are always popular, and anything Gluten Free.
TSB: I've tasted your oeufles and give them a glowing review. I tried to purchase a few for weekend guests but, much to my dismay, they were sold out.
TSB: I know you work out of a commercial kitchen, but I wonder if you have plans to open a storefront?
JH: No plans for a storefront, just wholesale.
TSB: Where can we find your items?
JH: The Downstairs Kitchen's "savory" line can be found at Stockroom Modern General Store in Bradley Beach. Muffins can be found at Stockroom Modern General www.stockroombyzohreh.com, E. Holland Sundries www.ehollandsundries in Bradley Beach, Off Shore Coffee Roasters www.offshorecoffeeroasters.com in Long Branch, and Lovelandtown Grocery
www.Lovelandtowngrocery.com in Point Pleasant.
Jan’s Best Tips:
Don't be afraid to try new ingredients and experiment - in baking as well as with the customer in the order. Be adventurous in creating as well as eating.
Always use fresh ingredients and don't skimp on using them. Give the customer the best product you can produce every time.
These two pieces of advice really encapsulate Jan’s business philosophy - creating delicious, chemical free and stunning product is at the forefront of her business, and it will be for a long time to come. Make sure to check out The Downstairs Kitchen - they’re all over social media, including @thedownstairskitchen.
Shannon and Nick Phillips:
Proprietor and baker extraordinaire, Jan and her husband Nick opened the spectacular small batch bakery E Holland Sundries www.eholandsundries in Bradley Beach a few months ago. Renowned for their beautiful cakes with wonderful flavor and gorgeous aesthetics, E. Holland has become one of a handful of anchor establishments in town. But if you follow them on @e.holandsundries you will notice beautiful photos of another specialty, her PRETZLES. And the line out the door of their bakery on the weekends is a testament to their building fan club. Oh, not a pretzel lover? Not to worry. You will find many fresh baked, flakey or dense treats on hand. I recently tried her brownies and if you're curious about heaven - you have to try them too!
Shannon and Nick grew up and attended the same schools in the Shore area, then both went on to the renowned French Culinary Institute in NYC. And lest you assume that this creative duo began a grammar school romance with food and each other - they didn't actually meet until they found themselves in the same professional situation many years later. They and their culinary interests and abilities compliment each other that is reflected in variety and taste.
Acting as spokesperson, Shannon gives us an overview of E. Holland Bakery's trajectory.
TSB: Did you have another career before launching your bakery?
SP: I have been working in the hospitality industry since I was 15 years old. At this point, I have basically done it all. I began in the Front of House but back in 2006, I decided to attend culinary school. But I did not major in pastry while in school. After graduating, I worked in kitchens in NJ and NYC. I also switched gears a couple of times and worked in wholesale meat distribution.
TSB: How long have you been involved in this effort, and why did you want to go into baking professionally?
SP: My husband and I decided to start E Holland Sundries after the birth of our daughter, Eliza. I left my job in wholesale distribution and food sales when Eliza was born and stayed home with her. I had been baking at several jobs prior to that and I decided to start doing my own thing. As I mentioned before, I never set out to be a baker. I was a line cook and sous chef who always ended up working on desserts and it eventually became the thing I enjoyed doing the most.
E Holland has been recommended for great pastries more times than I can count, and I wanted to know what makes them stand out from the crowd. So, I made sure to ask Shannon what she thought.
TSB: Can you name two things that make E Holland unique?
SP: The menu will constantly be evolving. I plan to always have a handful of our most popular items but I also want to focus on seasonality and my interpretations of nostalgic desserts.
We plan to collaborate with as many other small business owners in the area as possible. We wouldn’t be where we are now without the help of friends who are also small business owners. We want E Holland Sundries to act as a collective where ideas can become reality.
TSB: You are in the former location of Wall Flour - now found on Etsy - why Bradley Beach?
SP: My husband and I are both born and raised in the area (Spring Lake and Belmar) and we knew that we wanted to start our business in the same area where we grew up. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in Bradley Beach at places that are long gone (At The Hop, Mister Moons,) as well as Vic’s and the movie theatre. Darcy’s is one of our long-time favorite spots for great food. When the opportunity to take over the space occupied by Wall Flour, we quickly realized that we absolutely had to jump in. It was a no-brainer. That being said, 3.5 months is a super-fast track to open a bakery.
TSB: The ‘seize the day’ mentality is a core philosophy of E Holland. Shannon is a superb baker and is seizing the day to make that passion of hers a part of the world around her. Moving away from cakes, though, what else does Shannon love to make?
TSB: Do you have a specialty?
SP: Soft Pretzels. I learned how to make them at my first job after culinary school and have been making them ever since. Last week, I was able to make a batch using grain from the Bradley Brew project. They will definitely be a mainstay.
TSB: Besides Stockroom Modern, do you have any other clients for whom you bake specific items?
SP: I bake for Offshore Coffee Roasters www.offshorecoffeeroasters.com in Long Branch. We will also be carrying their coffee. Prior to opening the bakery, I was baking for Lovelandtown Grocery www.lovelandtowngrocery.com in Point Pleasant and now that they have reopened for the season, l am available there as well. I also do events and catering baking for Fossil Farms Market www.fossilfarms.com in Boonton, NJ. Prior to our daughter being born, I was the Inside Sales Manager for their wholesale business. I have been able to remain a part of their family by making desserts. I was even able to do the dessert course for their Wild Game Dinner at the James Beard Foundation.
TSB: Will you bake single order birthday cakes?
SP: Absolutely as well as wedding cakes BUT my style is rustic. I lean towards naked and very simply frosted cakes with unique flavor combinations.
SP: Yes! It’s rare that a single-word answer to a question fills me with joy, but this answer does. It shows the joy that Shannon has for what she does, and it’s really impressive to see.
TSB: I assume you will service daily walk-ins. Is there a specific selection of baked foods you plan to feature?
SP: Pretzels, cookies, brownies and bars, muffins, galettes, pies as well as confections such as caramels, pate de fruit, and marshmallows.
Shannon’s Best Tips:
Always used room temp butter, milk, and eggs unless the recipe says otherwise.
Always use real unsalted butter.
If you have a recipe that you always use for baking, consider changing up the flour you use for different flavor profiles (I use bread flour and cake flour in my chocolate chip cookies)
The underlying ethos that you can see in Shannon’s answers here is clear - she knows her stuff, and she isn’t afraid to apply that knowledge when baking to make incredible products. I love that she’s honest about it too. It shows that she’s passionate about having great baked goods out there in the world.