“I've wanted to own a bakery since I was 12 years old,” said Selena Hunt, proprietor of Flour Girls Baking Company, a Gallipolis, Ohio bakery and café. Hunt, an armed forces veteran, mother of four, and homeschool teacher, had her plate full until recent years. "In 2020, at the height of COVID, my husband, Steve, said we should start the bakery. I thought, 'we're a little crazy to do this right now.' Given the challenges we've been through, I might've been right," she said, with a smile.
The bakery specializes in gourmet desserts, including gorgeous custom cakes, cookies, breakfast pastries, and notoriously hard-to-prepare French macarons. "In the baking world, we constantly hear people complain that they can’t get macarons right no matter how hard they try, so I’m proud of ours. . People in Gallipolis didn't have easy access to high-quality baked goods. We have Walmart and the grocery store, but we thought they deserved something better," said Hunt, who bakes everything from scratch with the highest-quality ingredients she can find. “I’m really proud of everything we produce out of our kitchen. Our customers have been really enthusiastic too.”
Hunt's fondness for baking began at an early age. "My mother baked, and I would stand beside her in the kitchen, thumbing through her cookbooks. Then I started preparing dinner and making desserts for my parents. I was an only child, so I could manage cooking for our small family. I saw how happy I could make them by cooking and baking, and I knew it was something I wanted to do for everybody," she said. “I just like to make people happy through food.”
From the bright, whimsical icing-with-sprinkles exterior of the Flour Girls Baking Company storefront, you’d have no idea the building was formerly a dilapidated, defunct service
station. "Steve and I have a weakness for broken-down buildings. Before we moved to Gallipolis, we lived in our camper for a few years and traveled the country as a family, which was fantastic. Three years ago, we fell in love with this farmhouse in Gallipolis that needed a whole lot of fixing up. When it was time to open the bakery storefront, of course we bought this service station that had sat vacant for a decade or so," she said. "My husband was in charge of the renovations, and he knocked it out of the park."
The storefront came with its share of challenges. "We had some trouble with an engineer we'd hired to help with the remodeling of the building and to get it up to state code. Another local female entrepreneur put me in touch with ECDI and their Women's Business Center of Central Appalachia. Kelly Gordon was a lifesaver. She got me a consultation with a lawyer that helped us straighten everything out,” Hunt said. Gordon and the WBC also helped Hunt write her business plan, connect with local regulatory departments, and write a winning grant for redeveloping her building through the Downtown Revitalization Project in Gallipolis. In addition to the WBC’s one-on-one support, Hunt regularly takes advantage of group trainings to polish her business skills.
“We started with no loans whatsoever. We remodeled the building and opened with money we had saved as a family. It was a lot of penny-pinching and making hard decisions. Six months after we opened, we got a loan with ECDI, which helped us with the business so much," she said.
From inflation to staffing shortages, Flour Girls' growth hasn't come easy. "Baking supplies like eggs and flour have gotten so expensive. Lumber and electrical wire prices spiked at the height of our remodel, so we've paid top dollar for every item in our building," Hunt said. "You hear about the labor force shortage, but it hits hard when you're in the boss' shoes. Luckily, we've got a couple of really good people working with us now. We saw many businesses around us close this year, and that definitely makes this scary, but I'm trying to use it as a confidence booster. If we survived this past year, we can probably survive anything.” she said.
The bakery celebrated its anniversary on February 2nd. Hunt has high hopes for the future, as well as some new offerings. "We're adding lunch items and coffee drinks so that people have other reasons to come in. I know inflation didn't hurt only us – it's made it hard for everyone. Luxury items are the first thing to get cut out of a person's budget when they're struggling, so we want to offer our community other items. We're going to add nice outdoor seating, too," she said.
“If you want to make it through tough times, it's cheesy, but you really do have to believe in yourself."
“If you want to make it through tough times, it's cheesy, but you really do have to believe in yourself," Hunt said. " I'm growing into this role. We've made some mistakes, but we learn from them, and we do things better the next time. The process makes me feel good about the future of the company and what we can become.” Like making French macarons, running a business is notoriously difficult. But when you get it right, it’s so good.