story & photos by Bakery Boy
With the name Stick Boy Bread Co., I half expected its owner to be skinny. Or maybe, I thought, the menu will involve baguettes (bread “sticks”) and not much else. It turns out Carson Coatney is indeed a thin man and yes he makes some lovely baguettes, but that’s not where the name comes from and certainly not the only thing he makes. A few minutes into my first visit to the Boone, North Carolina, establishment it quickly became one of my favorite bakeries ever, both for the variety offered and the energetic attitude.
“It happens all the time, people thinking Stick Boy refers to me,” says Carson, co-owner with his wife, Mindy. “I hope the real story doesn’t disappoint you.” In short, as they prepared to open in 2001, a friend in Virginia spotted an apparent joke of a sign stuck to a utility pole and sporting the words “Lost—Stick Boy,” plus a hand-drawn stick figure and a fake phone number. She laughed, told them about it, and suggested it as a bakery name. Initially they scoffed, but the idea grew on them.
Mindy’s artistic aunt, Suzie Sadak, designed a logo showing a chef’s-hat-wearing stick boy running with a loaf of bread, and soon the couple’s bakery was off and running too.
SO MANY CHOICES Keep your head on a swivel at Stick Boy, because options abound. A wall of shelves holds hefty, aromatic, artisan loaves—crusty outside, softer but firmly textured inside—ranging from Spinach Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Sourdough to Italian Ciabatta, Honey Wheat, Organic Whole Wheat Multigrain, Organic Spelt with Raisins, Cranberry Pecan French, Rustic Apple, Pumpkin, Fig Walnut Wheat, Kalamata Olive, Blueberry Oatmeal, and others. Showcases teem with fruit pies, carrot cakes, chocolate tortes, scones, cookies, and amazing sticky buns loaded with cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts. A hot espresso bar and a cool smoothie station diversify the offerings. There are also beautifully handcrafted cutting boards and baker’s peels (those flat shovel-like tools used to move hot goodies around) made from fallen trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains at a nearby woodwork studio called Elkland Handwerke (see more at Fall Creek Woods).
SUMMER STOLLEN During the holidays a popular item is a dense Christmas Stollen laced with golden raisins, candied orange peal, cranberries, and almonds. “Instead of waiting all year, we created something similar that works in summer,” Carson says. “The Summer Stollen has blueberries, cranberries, pineapple, candied lemon peel, pecans, and a glaze of blueberry icing.”
LOVE THOSE BLUEBERRIES “In summer we bake a lot of blueberries into pies, scones, bread, and pastries,” Carson says. “There’s a blueberry farm nearby called Old Orchard Creek, and the owner brings me fresh-picked fruit all through July and August. We go through half a dozen 6-quart buckets every week. We like to use local, organic, and fresh ingredients whenever possible.”
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Carson grew up in western Kentucky, studied economics and chemistry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and frequented Boone, where he met and married Mindy, a Boone native. “We had the idea to start a bakery before we knew anything about baking,” Carson says.
“I’d recently graduated when we happened into the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Alexandria, Virginia. We liked what we saw: terrific artisan breads, all kinds of fresh-baked goods, a lot of organic and local ingredients, and bakers who seemed happy with their work. We thought, Boone needs something like this, and we could be those happy bakers.”
Carson completed a one-week bread-making class at a Minnesota baking school and experimented at home until he felt he had enough successes and enough variety to start Stick Boy. “We rented a tiny place, a thousand square feet, just enough room for an oven, a mixer, and a table,” he says. “There was hardly room for customers. We gradually added more bread to the lineup, then scones and cookies and pies. When the laundry next door closed, we tripled our space, rounded up more equipment, worktables, and showcases, and things really took off.”
They hired a friend, then a relative, and then a succession of enthusiastic students from Appalachian State University located across the street. Mindy is at home more now that they have three sons (ages 8, 6, and 4), but remains integral to the operation.
SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS “I think I’m genetically wired to be an entrepreneur,” Carson says. “I had an uncle in Kentucky who was always launching some sideline that I’d help with. At Duke I started a laundry service for students.” Following Stick Boy’s success, the Coatneys partnered with a former employee (Katie Dies and her husband Josh) to open a second Stick Boy Bread Co. in Fuquay-Varina, about 200 miles east on the outskirts of Raleigh. Along with another trusted employee they recently bought the Boone restaurant Melanie’s Food Fantasy from a bread customer who was ready to retire. “As serial entrepreneurs,” the ambitious Carson says, “we always look for opportunities.”
HOURS 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat
INFO www.stickboybread.com or 828-268-9900