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June 19, 2017

10 questions with Red Truck owner, baker-in-chief

Brian Noyes
• Age: 60.

• Home: Orlean.

• Work: Owner, baker-in-chief, Red Truck Bakery, 2009 to present; Smithsonian magazine, art director, 2003 to 2009; Washington Post Magazine art director, 1998 to 2003; Preservation magazine, art director, 1992 to 1998; House & Garden magazine, art director; 1991 to 1992; Washington Post Magazine art director, 1986 to 1991.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, communications and design, California State University-Fullerton, 1980; Montclair High School, Calif., 1975.

• Family: Husband, Dwight McNeill.

• Hobbies: Traveling to architectural destinations.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The magazine art director finally turned his love of baking into a career.

After more than three decades in the publishing business, Brian Noyes 10 years ago made a clean break and started Red Truck Bakery at his home in Orlean — a Northern Fauquier village at Leeds Manor and John Barton Payne roads.

“I’ve always had a passion for” baking, says Mr. Noyes, who has completed certificate programs at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and Academia de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. “My only uncle lived in Florida. He and I are a lot alike. We’d have a bake off. I’d send him breads with the recipe. He’d send me back his items, along with my recipe, corrected in red. And we’d just keep going back and forth.”

When he turned 50, “I thought if I’m ever going to follow my own passion, my own thing, I better start thinking about it now.”

In a red truck that he bought from clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger for $12,000, Mr. Noyes for about two years delivered baked goods for sale to a handful of area stores, including the since-closed Marshall IGA and The Farm Store in The Plains.

As Red Truck grew, Mr. Noyes searched for commercial space to accommodate the business.

On July 30, 2009, he moved the business to a former service station at 22 Waterloo St. in Warrenton. The roughly 1,300-square-foot space includes a small dining area and a commercial kitchen.

But, the business steadily outgrew that building, making it especially difficult to efficiently handle a huge internet-driven demand for baked goods, says Red Truck’s baker-in-chief.

To meet that challenge and grow the business, Mr. Noyes — with the help of eight investors — expanded the bakery to an approximately 5,000-square-foot space at 8366 W. Main St. in Marshall. For decades the space had housed the Old Salem Restaurant.

Last fall, Gentle Harvest — a market and café that sells high-quality baked goods and local, humane/organic food — opened next door to the Marshall Red Truck.

Viewing Gentle Harvest as a bakery rival, “we kind of bulked up a little bit,” says Mr. Noyes, the Washington Post Magazine’s first art director.

But, the day Gentle Harvest opened “was our busiest, non-holiday day at either store in eight years,” he says. “It’s amazing what it’s done. People come over here with bags from their place. We’ve never been busier.”

Red Truck employs about 45 people, including five full-time bakers.

• Did you have a hard time deciding to make the career change to baker?
It was really scary, and I might have been a little naive about it. But, I’ve never regretted it at all. It came at a good time. Magazine publishing was kind of getting overshadowed by the internet . . . . I liked the idea of something else lined up.

• What do you like most about your job?
What started my whole career, and that’s the identity of the place. It’s my project; it’s my design. I don’t like losing sight of the graphic end of things. I still love baking. We’re working on a cookbook now. I’m developing all those recipes. We’re aiming for 120 recipes.

• Why did you decide to do a cookbook?
I like putting everything down in writing. We’re not going to hold any secrets back. We ship thousands of bags of granola each year, and our granola recipe’s going to be in there. And that’s a recipe people tried to get for a long time.

It’s kind of about Virginia Piedmont entertaining. There’s probably a lot of tailgating going on — kind of Gold Cup/Great Meadow tailgating dishes. It’s kind of Southern food-centric. It’s all our recipes. There aren’t too many cookbooks out there that tell the story of food as seen through the Virginia Piedmont. And I just figured it was time to come up with one.

• What do you like least about your job?
Personnel aspect. It’s never-ending. It’s a little difficult hiring pool out here than what I was used to when I was working in publishing in D.C.

We’re doing a lot more training, no matter what the field is. What we really like to find are local people that don’t have to travel far to come in. We want them to be self-starters. It takes a lot of work to get to that point. A lot of people want to come in and maybe bake or work the front register just for the summer. It takes several months to get people trained to handle any questions that come up or represent our products and know how to bake them. We can’t invest all that in somebody that’s going to be here for two or three months.

• Will you ever open the Warrenton bakery on Sundays?
It could happen, but it’s hard to run two businesses seven days a week. We have a nice, loyal staff in Warrenton. Many of them have been there pretty much since we opened.

I would need to be convinced to justify hiring another crew. I’m not going to work anybody seven days a week. So, it involves staffing up all over again. And I’m just not sure the business is there to justify burning out my employees.

• Will the Warrenton bakery always have a kitchen?
Yes. You’ve got to walk into a bakery and smell those muffins baking. There’s no way around that. The sandwiches have to be made there.

It’s kind of working out perfectly right now, where Warrenton takes care of its baking there. And, we handle everything up here for Marshall and the shipping.

• Have you ever been stumped by a customer request?
A lot of customers come in and want us to duplicate something that’s in their family history. But to make this thing work, we kind of have to stay focused on our own line.

I don’t like doing overly decorated cakes. People come to us for wedding cakes and big birthday cakes with Elmo or Virginia Tech logos on it or something. And I just don’t want to get into decorated cakes.

• Any mistakes or bumps in the road along the way?
There were some goofy things, or just bad timing. Urban Daddy, which is a food blog, wanted to do a big nice piece on our Chocolate Moonshine cakes, and decided that would be the perfect party food for Super Bowl. We got hundreds of orders from around the country. Baked them all up and got hit with that huge snow the first winter we were open and couldn’t even ship the stuff out until afterwards. It took another week to get there.

• Have you ever thought about selling the business or retiring?
I’m a fifth-generation California boy. I’d love to end up back there one day. But it surely is not going to be any time soon. I’m committed to this place. I want to make it work. I don’t think I want to die in the kitchen here. I want to have some fun first.

• Do you have a succession plan?
Nope. Haven’t even thought that far.
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BJ · June 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm
Could someone let Brian know that Garden & Gun Magazine is having their annual "Made in the South" award contest. Go to madeinthesouthawards.com to enter. The rules, etc. are listed there and there is a $75 registration fee. I believe that Red Truck Bakery could definitely win in the food category.
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