Neighbor baker: Winston-Salem’s Yay Snacks!
I sat down with my friend and neighbor Jelaina Frelitz to talk about how marvelous she is. Also her bakery business, Yay Snacks, which she runs out of the Sunnyside neighborhood of Winston-Salem, NC.
In 2010, Jelaina and her dude, Ryan Pritts, bought two houses on a large lot in Sunnyside. One is their living quarters, and home to their pug, Dottie; the smaller house contains Ryan’s recording studio and Jelaina’s bakery. This unique setup is actually quite magical and works perfectly for the couple. Yay Snacks is not a retail bakery, so don’t go knocking on the door—but you can find Jelaina’s goodies throughout Winston-Salem.
So, you guys moved here from where?
We were in Detroit, and we moved to North Carolina. We loved Winston-Salem always, and we knew the Werehouse kids and people from touring. It made sense to move to Winston-Salem, to where we really wanted to be. We had traveled and moved pretty aggressively, so when we landed here we knew it was right. We had an established community in Winston-Salem, then we moved next door to you on Sprague Street, then these little houses happened, and now we are here.
Now we are sticking around. Forever and ever.
I love it here.
I LOVE IT here.
When you bought these houses, did you already have a vision of doing the bakery?
We knew we needed a space for Ryan’s recording studio, and I knew that I wanted to start doing something for myself. I mean, I was really happy. I worked at Mary’s Gourmet Diner and I worked at Krankies Coffee, and those are really, really good places, but I wanted to do something else, so we knew that we wanted to utilize that space as the working house but we didn’t know what else. Also, we were consumed by the renovations and the necessary immediate stuff—so I didn’t work for almost a year other than on the house.
The houses were in pretty rough shape?
Well, the little house wasn’t. The living house needed so much from the ground up, so that took up a solid six months. And then it was, well, what do I want to do? And I was in a position where there was a lot more freedom with that—freedom of choice, you know?
I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, nothing felt right. I was in the kitchen, eating a loaf of bread I had just made and saying to Ryan, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do! I don’t know what it is I should do!” And Ryan saying, “Really? I know what you want to do. I know what you want to do because you spend all your free time baking. You fall asleep reading cookbooks, you weirdo!” So it was really Ryan bringing to my attention that. He said, “Why don’t you just bake?” And I thought, “Well I can’t . . . well yeah I can, that’s awesome!”
We started gutting the kitchen next door and we had awesome help, friends and community folks really made that happen. Ryan traded the sink for some work at Krankies, and a friend gave me the oven and everything fell together. I started out doing crackers at a handful of places, like Washington Perk, and then I did the first round of Bread Club.
Tell me about the setup here with Ryan. You have a bakery, in the other house, with Ryan’s recording studio. Is that crazy?
No, it’s perfect because it really maximizes the use of the house, because it’s not like Ryan wants to have lasagna night when they are having band practice or while recording tender vocals.
Scheduling is perfect because I wake up so early—and no rock and roll bands are showing up at 4:30 in the morning to lay down some tracks, though they are sometimes leaving then. So the house is in constant, varied uses. There are very few times I am baking while Ryan’s recording, but it does happen from time to time. I’ve ruined some vocals dropping a bowl, but it’s okay.
My approach to baking and his approach to recording are pretty similar. I am way more intense than Ryan, but we are both pretty laid back in terms of the formality.
Let’s talk about Bread Club. I understand Bread Club as a central force of my life, but it might need a little explanation for folks who aren’t so fortunate.
Sure! We are familiar with CSA (community supported agriculture), right? The premise is that you buy a share in the business up front for a product you’ll be receiving for a time period. I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if I could do that with bread, basically Community Supported Baking? I called it Bread Club because that’s simpler than CSB.
Yeah, like “Fight Club,” but it’s really nice. You know, ‘cause it’s bread.
Sometimes I do think, “The first rule of Bread Club is . . . ”
Exactly. It was all word of mouth: people just told their friends, so people who understood it was unconventional, and sometimes I would change what I had said I was going to make that week because I came across this amazing cheddar, or pumpkin or apple. Being flexible lets me incorporate seasonal stuff that I find, so there’s an air of serendipity. Theoretically, people like to know what they are going to get, but I find that they really also like a surprise.
I think, for our family, getting Bread Club is great because we are often inspired to make something special for dinner or breakfast based on what shows up from Bread Club.
That’s great, I love hearing that.
What are your favorite thing to make or give people?
The pop-tarts are by far the most popular. Maybe I should call them something else so I don’t get a cease-and-desist letter. Let’s call them “baked hand pies.”
What great about those is that I’ve used local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible the whole time. I don’t even put sugar in the filling. Because they are seasonal there is a limited run of flavors. I might only do strawberry filling for three weeks, for instance.
You have offered a larger variety of breads and snacks in the past year.
My initial intent of the bakery was mainly savory. But a little bit of sweet makes people so happy. I’m feeding people; I have to feel good about how I’m feeding them. Lots of kids are eating the food I bake. I can’t give you some deep fried, sugary . . . I can’t give anybody that! I don’t eat like that; I can’t feed people like that.
I don’t mean I’m only going to make everything whole wheat, or flax or multigrain, or whatever, but it’s REAL food. No mysterious ingredients: I’m using real butter, and unbleached flour and as many organic or all natural or local ingredients as I can find.
To me there’s nothing more delicious than the most basic things—flour, water, yeast—it’s the most delicious magic. Or . . . wait for it . . . butter, flour, a tiny bit of sugar. It’s alchemy. Awesome things happen. And even if it’s not perfect, you can still eat it. We eat a lot of my experiments, and I learn from those.
Can you tell me about your property here? It’s a pretty big spread for being right in town.
It’s just under an acre. We have a huge vegetable garden, an herb and berry patch, a fire pit, and we are building a wood-fired oven outside. I’m really excited to bake hearth bread for people.
It’s wonderful to plant things that you know you’ll have and see grow for a long time. Because we’ve finally stopped moving. We like Sunnyside a lot. We are lucky with our immediate neighbors, and also the larger neighborhood.
Buying a property like this, in Sunnyside where it was affordable, even though it needed SO MUCH work, was scary, but we really wanted to stay in the neighborhood. Because we are lucky to be in a position to be able to fix things as we can, and Ryan is super handy and can do a lot of work himself. It still blows my mind that I live in a house that I own. We get to make these houses to be exactly what we want, a reflection of who we are and how we want to live.
Our neighbors are happy to see changes and gardens and everything happening in this part of the neighborhood. These houses had been owned by the same families forever, so the neighbors were nervous about new people coming here. I love living back here because you get to live and basically feel like you are in the country—but with the soothing highway noise. People pay money for white noise machines that sound like Highway 52!
What’s the future for Yay Snacks products?
I was selling at a farmer’s market last season, and that was fun, but I was killing myself and not making enough money to justify the booth space. Now I’m concentrating on Bread Club, which is my favorite part of the bakery, as well as delivering weekly to Let It Grow Produce, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, Krankies Coffee. What’s great about my relationships with these places is that they allow me to be creative and make what I want to make without asking for specific items be delivered each week. Especially at Krankies, I deliver something awesome Tuesdays-Fridays. I’m selling pop tarts, whoopies pies, (baked) doughnuts, sweet rolls and it’s total creative freedom. It’s been great to have people trust me enough to make something that I’m excited about. I’ve been selling desserts at Mary’s, which has been great too because Mary is wonderful to work with and just lets me bring in whatever I’d like to make—because she trusts me.
Tell me about the whoopies pies, I’ve had a few of yours and they are amazing.
The classic whoopie pie is a dark chocolate cake with a marshmallow cream filling. I try to be really careful with ingredients so I haven’t made that, because it’s impossible to make a really spreadable marshmallow cream without using some weird industrial chemistry. So instead I’ve done carrot cake with a orange buttercream filling and a sweet potato with dulce de leche, and a chocolate malted pie where the buttercream was malted.
They are about the size of a small cupcake. I don’t want to make those huge portion sizes that are popular right now. Cupcakes as big as your head are not something I want to eat or serve people. It’s my belief that people who want a treat or something sweet don’t really want a huge one, but they’ll eat it and have a belly ache. I like the smaller sizes and the prices reflect that.
What’s your feeling about where Sunnyside is headed? I feel like there’s a lot of potential for working together in this neighborhood. With low-income families and working-class families really getting together to make something great happen here. Anthony’s Plot has talked about a garden collective; I think you’d be a natural to collaborate with on that project.
I’d love that! I love the idea of helping people in Sunnyside to use what we have available to us. I mean, what do you do with so much zucchini! But there are SO many things you can use it for. We just have to learn to use that foods that grow so well here.
We really want to create a feeling of abundance here, with our own market, with things that people are growing here.
Let’s talk about the fact that some of farmer’s markets in this area tend to exclude folks who are not affluent and that buying healthy, natural food should not be a privilege. There is a tendency of farmer’s markets to be exclusive even if they accept EBT. The food is still too expensive. It doesn’t matter if you are taking EBT when a jar of jam costs $10.00. There shouldn’t be judgment about how people choose to feed their families on limited incomes. We should encourage everyone to have the skill set to create your own garden. I’m not saying that everyone should be self-sustaining, but a pot with some tomatoes or herbs in it is possible, and provides you with some food and a lot of satisfaction.
Natural foods don’t have to be just for the wealthy. There has to be a space for people to buy good food in our neighborhood that they can afford. I know that a lot of the people in my neighborhood can’t afford the breads and snacks that I make, and I have to be comfortable with that. What I would like to do is teach other people how to bake this way. When I started baking it was because I couldn’t afford the 6 or 8 dollar bread that I wanted to eat.
I appreciate the folks that are able to buy what I’m making, but for folks that can’t, I want to show them how to make bread. Easy and cheap and not time-consuming. I’m not saying that everyone can do that. I know families where everyone is working two jobs, but if you are able, there are breads that you can make. Bread is easy and forgiving. You can make something edible even if it’s not your dream come true.
Thanks. I just am really glad that you are here, and I love your business.
We love it too. We are just so happy here and tell everyone. It is actually truly diverse and neighborhoody. I walk and say hello to everyone I see. You know I just convinced my big brother to move here. If you fled where you are from and bring your family to your new neighborhood, I think you are feeling pretty good about where you are.
Photos courtesy of Heather Bachelder and Yay Snacks bakery