Brian Murphy, proprietor of the Smith Island Baking Company, has always been on the lookout for ways to make his business bigger and better than ever. He turned to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Neighborhood BusinessWorks program to help grow his company, which makes the official state dessert.
Since 2009, Murphy has run the business from Crisfield, a small town located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as well as on the island itself. Crisfield also serves as the point for ferries arriving from and departing to Smith Island, a 9.2 square foot mile island that is the only inhabited Maryland island located in the middle of Tangier Sound. The island is roughly 12 miles from Crisfield’s shores and not connected to the mainland by bridge. About 250 people currently live on the small island, many of whom are descendents of its original settlers 400 years ago.
As the business has continued to grow in the years since Smith Island Baking Company opened, Murphy knew it was time to expand operations. Through the Neighborhood BusinessWorks program, Murphy was able to secure a $650,000 loan to buy a grocery store in Crisfield, which was abandoned and damaged during Superstorm Sandy. The store will be renovated and turned into a one-stop shop for the Smith Island Baking Company. When it’s done, the space will serve as an order processing center and bakery, and will also host a retail storefront where customers will be able to see the cakes made right before their eyes.
Murphy had a clear vision, but found it difficult to find anyone willing to back the project. The Neighborhood BusinessWork's program was able to assist. The program provides flexible financing, to Maryland-based small businesses, local development corporations and nonprofit organizations whose activities contribute to a broader revitalization effort, and whose projects are intended to promote investment in commercial districts or town centers.
“It’s a high-risk proposal,” Murphy said, citing the Crisfield location and its proximity to sea level, along with other factors, but noted he’s confident in the potential and the ability to succeed. The loan, Murphy said, was critical to making it all happen.
In addition to securing financing, Murphy noted how much work had to be done within the grocery store itself as an additional obstacle. Much of the building had to be gutted, and there were even canned goods and other items left from when the store abruptly closed. Work began on the project in late April 2016, and is expected to conclude later in the summer.
When it’s all said and done, Murphy said the plan is to keep the original Smith Island facility open for visitors in the summer. Their current Crisfield location, Murphy said, will be closed. All baking will be done in the new facility, and all orders will ship from there.
Murphy’s cakes already have quite a big following: they’ve been sold at Camden Yards, on QVC, and the company also has contracts with Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and other big-name retailers. The bakery has shipped its wares to 2,500 cities in seven different countries, and Murphy expects that business will only grow from here.
“We want 10,000 people to visit Smith Island a year,” Murphy said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll be successful. ...The only thing better than running a successful company is having it make an impact on the community, and I think that’s what we’re doing. That’s an exciting thing. It’s a very big risk, but I think it will be worth it. I’m looking forward to proving that that confidence was well-placed.”