When marketing specialist and journalist Jessica Carr found herself working from home this year, she started messing around in the kitchen trying to re-create her favorite Filipino recipes.
“I opened my bakery, Girls Gotta Eat Good, as a side thing,” said Carr. “It happened because of the pandemic. I was working remotely and just wanted to explore something that I have always been passionate about.”
Baking and sharing her mom’s recipes
Carr, who is a Filipino-American, was trying to make all of the treats she loved growing up. “I would FaceTime my Mom and ask her for help making different dishes,” she said. “It became an outlet for me during this stressful time.
“I was able to drop off the goodies to my friends’ houses to communicate that I was thinking of them during this hard time,” she added.
The Girls Gotta Eat Good Instagram account started out as a food blog. “I had the logo designed by a friend and was going to use it to explore the food scene,” said Carr. “I started posting pictures of the treats I was making and people would message me saying ‘they would buy that.’ I started to think there could be a market for this.”
Asian bakery may be unique
With no Asian bakeries in Knoxville, Carr noticed that desserts, such as red bean buns, were usually shipped from the bigger cities and not as fresh.
“I got my business license six weeks ago and thought if there is ever a time, then a pandemic is a great time to share something that has brought me a lot of joy,” she said. “It’s so amazing to see people try something, that they have never tasted before.”
Most of the recipes have been passed down from memory from her mother. “When I was little, she would make them and she has already adapted the ingredients to ones she could find for her recipes,” said Carr.
For instance, rice flour was substituted for all-purpose flour in the “Puto” steamed coconut cakes. “In the Philippines they put cheese on top of it and make it more savory; my Mom’s recipe is sweeter,” she said.
“Like most children who were raised in America, you don’t appreciate your roots,” said Carr. “Now, I have a reason to share it with other people and connect with my roots.”
Holiday favorites on the menu
Many of Carr’s favorite food memories are associated with holidays and special occasions. Every year for Christmas, Carr’s mother would make a sticky rice cake called Kalamay. She asked her mother to travel from Livingston, Tennessee, to teach her how to make it.
“I had never made it myself, but wanted to add it to my holiday menu,” she said. “It is like two recipes in one with an egg custard (leche flan) on top. As soon as I posted it on Instagram, people wanted them.”
Every month, Carr rotates through a choice of four or five sweet baked goods on her menu and spends every weekend baking in a rented professional kitchen space.
“I have a two-fold business model right now,” she explained. “I am considered a retail baker and I can sell directly to customers — taking pre-orders on Instagram and picking it up on the weekend. Customers can also reserve a box of treats and pick them up at the pop-up events.”
Carr was recently a vendor at events held at Scruffy’s Café and French Fried Vintage boutique.
Coming soon to holiday market
Girls Gotta Eat Good sells items by the dozen or offers a variety box of four or five different items in a box of 10-12 items. The holiday menu will be posted soon on the Girls Gotta Eat Good Instagram page, and she will be at the Mid Mod Collective Holiday Market noon-5 p.m. on Dec. 5.
“I think that right now is an important time to support local small businesses; all of us are kind of going out on a limb,” said Carr, who is juggling four jobs to make ends meet. “If people are doing their holiday shopping and picking up treats — if they can remember local small business, that will help.”