Artisan bakery and baker thrive in Charleston
By Leslie Fitzwater
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Libby Chatfield is a hard woman to pin down. That's not because she's not excited to tell her story about coming home to West Virginia. It's because she's so busy running a successful bakery that she has little time to do much else but bake and sell her delicious breads, cookies and pastries.
When Libby opened the doors of Charleston Bread LLC in May 2006, she says there were about a dozen people waiting in line to be her first customers. The traffic hasn’t stopped since.
“Our customers love to learn about the bread; they love to learn about the ovens; they love to learn about the place,” she says. “They are looking for a place where they can walk in the door and talk to people face to face every day.”
They also come for the great bread. Charleston Bread offers a wide variety, including French baguettes, Ciabatta, cinnamon swirl raisin and the hometown favorite, Charleston Sourdough. “We are always trying to come up with new things,” Libby says. “There’s just a never-ending supply of options. That’s the great thing about making bread, there are so many things you can do with it.” Some of her latest additions to the menu include breadsticks and bialy, a New York-style onion roll similar to a bagel.
Libby learned to make bread during her college years at Marshall University. The wife of one of her professors taught her to knead and shape bread, and she’s been baking her own ever since. After she and her future husband, Mark, graduated from Marshall with degrees in biology, they moved to the Northwest where Libby attended law school at the University of Oregon. Building on her biology background, she focused on environmental law.
While living outside West Virginia, Libby cultivated a love of small artisan-type bakeries. In 1992, after a decade away from the Mountain State, the couple returned to Charleston, and Libby found herself missing those small bakeries she had frequented in other cities. In 2004, she decided to change careers and pursue her interest in bread making. Libby attended the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vt., and started to create a business plan.
“I had a lot of faith that Charleston would support something like this,” she says. “I knew that the product was unique and I knew that the product would be popular.”
Libby is not the only Chatfield who knows their way around the kitchen. Her husband Mark, who is originally from Welch, W.Va., comes from an Italian family and brought his family’s recipes into their marriage. Libby says their Friday night ritual includes Mark’s made-from-scratch pizza. The Chatfields also are avid gardeners and love using their freshly-grown produce in their recipes.
In what spare time she has, Libby plays guitar and says her newest interest is learning to play old-time banjo. She says some of her favorite places, like Kanawha State Forest and Cranberry Glades, are West Virginia’s best kept secrets. “You can find wonderful, beautiful forests full of unique plants and animals in these mountains. I like the wild places.”