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What Makes The Little Bird Bakeshop so Remarkable? The Story of How Amy Corliss Followed Her Dreams.

“The Little Bird Bakeshop” by Kailey Pickering.

How did you discover your love for baking?

Amy: I started to have an interest in baking when I was quite young, like 10 or 11 or 12 or something. I did a lot of baking in high school, with friends for fun, with my parents and that kind of stuff. So that’s kind of where I started, I guess I would say it really actually started with my grandma, she was my mom’s mom, she was quite the baker. And then my dad’s dad was also a good baker. I think growing up with those two influences and just being a big part of our life and gatherings and family and all that stuff is what sparked my interest.

Wow, so it was kind of about family?

Amy: Yeah, initially yes, and then I just kind of took it and ran with it.

So, how did you decide to turn something you’re so passionate about into a business?

Amy: I think it took a few different routes to get there, and it took some time to realize that was really an option, and I think that sounds kind of weird now when the culture around food is so different than it was when I was younger. But being from Colorado and being born and raised here in a small town, I grew up in Greeley and Loveland, and just not really experiencing restaurants or bakeries or places where that was someone’s livelihood. I didn’t really have that understanding that, yes you could do this as a job. So, it just sounds crazy in hindsight.

I actually started out in college wanting to do journalism and writing and that kind of stuff and started down that path for a major and then just realized that I like the creative aspect of that but I didn’t really think I would like to do it on a deadline. So, I didn’t get very far with that and then, I took a couple other different paths, like I wanted to do speech pathology for a while and I just kept starting down these paths and not feeling like that was totally it.

So, that’s a very long answer to your question but, I think it just took time and kind of testing out a lot of different things to figure out that this is really what I’m supposed to do and you know, I think I love it enough to make it work. Then after going to school, I was moving to different areas of the country and working for different people, and there’s a lot of information on the job, or what works and what doesn’t work, but always with the goal of I really wanted to have my own place. I wanted to do things different than what I was experiencing.

Amy: I mean those places were wonderful and gave me the skills and knowledge to be able to do something like this. There are some times where I just wish that I were working for someone else and, you know, I could just go to work and do my job and enjoy it and then go home and have that distinct line between work and life. But then, the plus side of that is I get to make the rules and come up with the ideas and just execute things in the way that I want to and that creative freedom… it’s hard to think about giving up. Some days I just want to go work for somebody else and then other days it’s like, no I wouldn’t really want to do that because I wouldn’t have that full freedom license that I get here.

So, you’ve talked twice now about having the creativity and being able to do things your own way. What things have you put into Little Bird that you wouldn’t be able to put into another business, or that is different from other businesses?

Amy: I don’t know that it’s different than any others, but different than where I worked as far as sourcing really quality ingredients, being really picky about that and working with more local producers, and just kind of having this symbiotic relationship with several farms in town. I just really believe that the quality of what you put in really matters. And I’ve worked in a lot of places where that wasn’t really the focus. It’s more expensive, it’s not as economical, it creates a little bit more work having to find different channels of distribution. I think that’s probably the main thing.

Also, being able to change the menu really frequently and seasonally, is what keeps it fun for me, not having the same 12 items year-round. I’ve had a few jobs where we did really high-volume wholesale baking, and it makes sense in that setting, but you just have a really set menu and you don’t get to have much variation. Those are the two things that kind of keep the fire alive, I guess.

So, how have you developed the atmosphere of Little Bird?

Amy: That is a great question. It’s really interesting. My husband and I were just talking about that, not too long ago. So, he also just started his own small business, completely different, in kitchen remodeling, but it’s his first time being an entrepreneur, as well. He was asking, how did you develop your corporate culture and I said, I don’t know. It just kind of happened over time.

I think as far as the atmosphere in here, I would say it’s just a lot of pieces from all the people that have been here over the years, whether it’s customers or staff or both. I think everybody who’s made this space part of their life has left a little something behind. Like right here, [Amy points to the wall next to us] this was one of our really regular customers, she quilted that whole thing for us and gave it to us as a gift. Or, we have customers that have asked to hang their artwork in here because there were things they felt like would fit in here. Some people even have their art for sale or just a display device.

“Image of Customer’s Quilt” taken by Kailey Pickering.

I do think it’s like just little pieces of everybody who’s been a part of this. It’s a culmination of 10 years of being here and different staff and different customers, I think it would be really hard to create a space like this just starting out, and it certainly didn’t start like this. I had a few things that I brought into it that I really loved. I don’t know how long you’ve been around, but we remodeled a couple years ago and really, completely changed the layout and kind of classed it up a little bit. It used to be very eclectic, mismatched furniture, which we still have in the customer area, but the whole pastry case was sort of a hodgepodge of things that we just pieced together as we grew over time. So, it’s very different than how it was.

So, since you’re talking about how things have changed over the years, you talked about it a little with the remodel, but how do you think the atmosphere has shifted or changed over the years?

Amy: Yeah, I think it has grown a lot, which I’m so grateful for, but it’s also been a lot to keep up with. I think we’ve lost a little bit of that really personal connection sometimes, because it is just so busy. In the front of the house, you have a line of people who are waiting to be served and we want to be efficient but genuine with each person, and that’s such a hard balance to find. I think everyone here is doing a really wonderful job, but it’s different than when you had one customer every 10 minutes and you could really have that full blown conversation with them.

I think for my staff dynamic, I have way, way, way more staff than ever and so I guess my personal relationship with everybody is a little bit different. When we opened, I had five total employees and I just knew everybody so well, because we worked every single day together, all day together. And now I think we have like 20 employees, and we have a whole bunch of new ones right now so I’m kind of starting to learn all of them, and it’s just the interaction is really different. I think, things don’t stay static and there are pros and cons that come along with that.

Amy: I have not done it. I actually have one of my head bakers right now, she does all social media for us and before her was another one of my bakers. They are a little more in tune with it. I’m getting a little bit better but it’s not my focus and so I don’t spend enough time on it to keep it engaging and Maggie does a really great job. She posts really frequently, and I think it actually helps to have somebody who’s working in the back of the house creating a product do that, because they have a little more insight into what’s new or what’s coming. I actually don’t know if we have very many action shots on there but you know [focusing on] the process in motion rather than just always the final product.

Yeah, I think it definitely shows community.

Amy: Yeah, and I think that’s a big part of it too, is that teamwork component. This is sort of a side note to that but that’s something I’m working really diligently at right now, is trying to learn how to better delegate things, because things have grown in such a way that I can’t manage everything anymore. It’s just crazy to try to and I have all these people here that would help but I just have a hard time letting go.

“Behind the Counter of The Little Bird Bakeshop” by Kailey Pickering.

Well, it sounds like community is a big part of your values. What does it mean to you to be a local business in Fort Collins?

Amy: I think we’re so fortunate. So, when I opened this place I had been living in Brooklyn previous to that. Then I moved back here, my mom had passed away, and I came back home to be close to my dad and my brother who were here in Colorado, but I had not ever lived in Fort Collins before. So, previous to living in Brooklyn I had been living in Loveland, and came back not at all with the idea of doing this. This was always just like the carrot at the end of the stick, like someday, down the road. But, after moving back and trying to put things back together in my life and kind of figure out what’s next, I felt like I needed something really meaningful to do. I thought really long and hard about trying to open a spot in downtown Loveland, because I think Loveland has a lot of potential and having lived there for a long time, always kind of felt like I wish there was something really good there. It just seemed like it was more of a limb to go out on as far as the population and the time and was there enough demand to support a business like what I wanted to create?

That all leads me to say, I chose Fort Collins just because of the university. That’s a really big part of it, because not only do you have students as part of your customer base, but you have all those faculty and staff, which tend to be a diverse group of people who are pretty engaged in their community. So, a lot of things just fell into place, like finding this space in Old Town right on the corner. You know, all those things and they were things that I didn’t necessarily have on my radar not having lived here, but after all these years, it’s like oh my gosh we couldn’t have tried to plan it better. Things just kind of came together in a way that was so great.

I think that the downtown has changed tremendously over the last 10 years, and I think in a good way to kind of embrace more unique, independent businesses, which is really fun to be a part of even just a few blocks around here in that small sub-community. It’s really fun to be a part of.

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