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Hidden Gems: Meet Emily Tavag of Mama Bear Bakery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Tavag.

Hi Emily, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself
I have always had a sweet tooth, but I didn’t necessarily gravitate toward baking until high school and college. Growing up my Mom would bake and decorate my brother and my birthday cakes herself. The cakes always matched our birthday party theme, and often perfectly coordinated with the invitations or plates. I remember it felt so special to have a cake made with so much love and care. My Mom had also grown up with many homemade cakes and treats because my Grandma Shirley Ann, her mother, ran her own home-based cake business from their farmhouse in Nebraska. When my Mom was growing up she would assist my Grandma with her cakes and that’s how she learned her cake skills. I guess you could say baking is a bit of a family tradition!

I think middle school was when I started to dabble in baking myself, though mostly it was no-bake cookies and boxed funfetti cupcakes. In college, I made birthday cakes for friends and after college, I baked for holidays and get-togethers. I enjoyed trying new recipes, but only thought of baking as a hobby.

In the summer of 2017, my husband and I decided to move back to Cleveland after living in Brooklyn, New York for 5 years. I had worked as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and was feeling burnt out, frustrated by our healthcare system, and in need of a break for my mental health. So, after we moved back to Cleveland, I began to throw myself into several hobbies, including baking. That Christmas my husband gave me my first Kitchenaid mixer and I was SO excited!!

I began baking constantly, trying lots of recipes, and also rediscovering Cleveland again. I loved all the focus on local businesses and locally grown or made food. In 2018 we bought a house in the Ohio City neighborhood, built a chicken coop, and got 4 hens. When they started laying eggs, I used them in my baking and felt the freshness and quality was noticeable. I was struck by the idea that the quality of what I was baking could improve so much if I used all local ingredients. The benefits of using local ingredients extended beyond simply quality and freshness. Using locally sourced ingredients would also help support other local growers, grocers, and food makers and help the local community and that really resonated with me.

In early 2019 I began taste testing with a group of friends and in July 2019 I launched Mama Bear Bakery as a cottage food bakery. Mama Bear Bakery has grown each year since I started it. It has introduced me to a whole new circle of people in and around Cleveland and for that I am very grateful. I am very excited to share that Mama Bear Bakery will be moving out of my home kitchen and into the commercial kitchen inside the West Side Alliance Church in Ohio City in January 2022. This will allow Mama Bear Bakery to grow and expand and I’m super excited for the opportunity!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I don’t think it’s ever a completely smooth road when you’re starting a business. There are always bumps and detours along the way. When I first started Mama Bear Bakery my biggest struggle was my lack of business experience and knowledge. I knew nothing about starting, running and owning a business. My formal education and work experience were all in Nursing. I’d never had any interest in business so I had a lot to learn. Thankfully through the internet, podcasts, and reaching out to other local bakers I was able to learn a great amount and create a network of people whom I could ask questions.

An ongoing struggle I have is staying focused. It’s so easy to be distracted by the hundreds of ideas that pop in your head, by what you see other people doing, by what you see on social media, and by tasks, you need to do around the house (downfall of working at home). When I find myself off in the weeds, I re-focus myself on the mission and core values of Mama Bear Bakery and try to block out all the other clutter.

We’ve been impressed with Mama Bear Bakery, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Mama Bear Bakery is a local-focused bakery in Cleveland, Ohio committed to creating delicious baked goods from scratch using local ingredients. Mama Bear Bakery specializes in making cookies, brownies, and bars with both traditional and more unique flavor combinations. Customers especially love our Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fudgy Brownies, and Linzers.

One way Mama Bear Bakery stands out, is in our commitment to supporting local. All of our ingredients are sourced from local food growers, producers, makers, and grocers. This allows us to use high-quality, fresh ingredients and to support local small businesses and food operations. When you support local small businesses, you help create stronger, healthier local communities and economies.

You can find Mama Bear Bakery baked goods by ordering online at mamabearbakerycle.com and also at Ready Set Coffee in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
My favorite childhood memories are being back on the farm in Nebraska visiting my family and playing with my cousins. I loved playing in my cousin’s treehouse, roaming through my Grandma’s beautiful flower gardens, and crowding into Grandma’s living room together to open presents at Christmas.

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Image Credits
Samantha Wolfram
W Design+Photography

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