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Atlanta chefs find success beyond restaurants

You’ll find Sarah Dodge, Jenn Robbins at pop-ups, farmers markets

You won’t find Jenn Robbins or Sarah Dodge in a restaurant kitchen, working the line from 4 p.m. to midnight, or in the pastry kitchen every day at 5 a.m.

Instead, you can find Robbins, 34, spending Saturday mornings at a local farmers market. She’ll be in front of her 3-foot cast iron propane-heated plancha, probably flipping tortillas on a griddle with one hand while frying eggs with the other, then topping those tortillas with duck mole or chorizo.

Jenn Robbins can be found most Saturday mornings offering a breakfast pop-up at a local farmers market. Here, she’s at Freedom Farmers Market during Tomato Day, offering fresh tomato sandwiches topped with an egg. CONTRIBUTED BY JENIFER CARTER (For the AJC)

A weekday morning usually finds Dodge, 32, awake at 6 a.m., shaping and proofing the day’s loaves of bread. After baking the bread, she takes an hourlong walk with Fergus, her hound-pit mix pup. By 9:30 a.m., she’s planning and shopping for her private chef clients, or preparing a small-batch pastry order, or getting ready for a pop-up market.

Robbins and Dodge have done their time in restaurant kitchens, but now they’ve found a way to be part of Atlanta’s food community on their own terms.

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After two semesters working on a master’s in mental health counseling, Dodge left grad school to become a baker, building on something she already loved. She started by baking for Rob Alexander at H&F Bread, then worked with Sarah O’Brien at the Little Tart Bakeshop, and with Angus Brown at 8ARM. She gives them credit for turning a love of baking into professional skills.

Sarah Dodge became known in Atlanta for her decadent biscuits, but her pastries, like these cinnamon rolls, are just as delicious and addictive. CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH DODGE (For the AJC)

The death of Angus Brown in January, 2017, caused Dodge to pause. “I woke up one day and thought, ‘What am I doing? What am I running this rat race for?’ I was missing face-to-face contact with the people I was feeding. Angus had given me an amazing platform to do what I love, but it was time to re-evaluate. I made the tough call to leave 8ARM.”

Robbins, too, had been missing that connection with customers when she was working in catering and in restaurant kitchens. “There’s a level of satisfaction you get from the direct interaction, especially at the farmers markets, where you hand the plate to the customers for them to enjoy right then and there.”

Breakfast tostadas are standard fare at Jenn Robbins’ pop-ups. Each compostable plate is labeled with the customer’s name, and each dish is cooked to order. CONTRIBUTED BY ANU ADEBARA (For the AJC)

Robbins founded Good Foods Kitchen, which has allowed her to work with former colleagues from Avalon Catering and Ford Fry’s St. Cecelia’s. “I’m completely in awe of the level of loyalty and commitment they have,” she said. “For my part, I pay livable wages and make sure they feel appreciated. It helps that they also like my food, and have a level of pride in serving it.”

Creating businesses wasn’t easy for these women, but both say they’ve learned to trust themselves, believe in their skills, and enjoy using those skills to make a living.

“I think I’m creating better products, better meals, better bread, because I’m healthier now; my head is clear,” Dodge said. “I have time for myself, for my family, for my dog. That makes me a better chef and a better baker.”

Her business is Bread Is Good. Soon, she’ll be printing her logo on tote bags. “One day, you can put that tote bag outside on your door and we’ll deliver fresh bread to you. Really, that’s my ultimate dream. To deliver and give people access to good bread.”

Take a class from Sarah Dodge of Bread Is Good, and she will share how much she loves the process of making sourdough bread. Her starter is named Pete, and each day she feeds Pete, and begins a new round of baking. CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH DODGE (For the AJC)

In the meantime, she works as a private chef for a few clients and calls that her “day job.” She’s getting more into teaching, including sourdough and biscuit classes for the Learning Kitchen, and as part of a fermentation class at Culture South.

Dodge has what she calls an “underground bread subscription thing,” where folks follow her on Instagram and claim whatever fresh baked bread she has available that day.

“That’s been really fun,” she said. “People are much more interested in better bread, with no commercial yeast or preservatives, and I’ve loved working with local DaySpring Farms flour. My customers want to feed themselves and their children well. I think this is the right time and the right place to take that further.”

She’s doing biscuit and toast pop-ups at places like Mashburn on Howell Mill Road and the Spindle in Studioplex, or breakfast pop-ups at Queen of Cream in the Old Fourth Ward. “They have opened their doors so I can do what I love,” she said.

Jenn Robbins left a career as a chef for caterers and in restaurant kitchens to open Good Food Kitchens and offer catering, meal delivery, classes and breakfast pop-ups. CONTRIBUTED BY JENN ROBBINS (For the AJC)

When Robbins was deciding on her new business venture, she knew she didn’t want to go brick-and-mortar. “I didn’t want to have to commit to those hours, doing dinner service every night or something. I knew I wanted to continue to do pop-ups, which I had been doing when I was working for others. I knew I wanted a reasonable amount of catering business, and the meal delivery happened because my dad wanted me to make meals for him.”

She also teaches classes, and cooks at fundraising events across the country.

All these aspects of Good Foods Kitchen allow her to be efficient in what she purchases, and what she prepares. “I can buy 40 pounds of duck legs from White Oak Pastures, and then use that duck between everything we’re doing.”

And, it allows her to continue something that’s very important to her. “I will forever and ever support all of the farmers I’ve worked with over the years. They’re like family. Between that and the chance to be so close to my customers, there’s a real level of fulfillment in this.”

Dodge, meanwhile, appreciates that her new way of life is allowing her to get out and trust herself. “I like being in this place where I have the flexibility to decide my life and my path, and not be confined to the restraints of a restaurant.”

<<Find Sarah Dodge

Breakfast pop-up, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Oct. 14, Queen of Cream, 701 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta.

Dessert pop-up, 6-10 p.m. Oct. 21, A Mano, 587 Ralph McGill Blvd., Atlanta.

More breakfast pop-ups are planned over the holidays at Mashburn, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta.

<<Find Jenn Robbins

Afternoon in the Country, 1-4 p.m. Nov. 4, Foxhall Resort, 8000 Capps Ferry Road, Douglasville. ldeiatlanta.org/afternoon-in-the-country.

Breakfast pop-up, 8-11:30 a.m. Nov. 10 and 17, Morningside Farmers Market, 1393 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta; Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, Freedom Farmers Market, 453 Freedom Parkway NE, Atlanta.

Kimchi cooking class, 2-5 p.m. Nov. 11, the Learning Kitchen, Sweet Auburn Curb Market, 209 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. preservingnow.com/learning-kitchen.

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