This travel-inspired, sibling-run baking business shares desserts and builds community
By Martha Zaytoun | Photography by John Michael Simpson
During the pandemic, twins Caroline Eckblad and AJ Eckblad were living in the Joo Chiat area of Singapore and found it hard to connect with their neighbors.
To remedy that, they started East Coast Kids Bakery, which shares a name with nearby East Coast Beach. They whipped up treats to sell, made handmade flyers and distributed them in letter boxes around the neighborhood, one of the country’s best foodie destinations.
“We saw that it was a great way to connect with the community and assimilate,” Caroline says. They followed the lead of their mom, Ginny Eckblad, who is an experienced cook and loves to experiment in the kitchen. “We like cooking with her because she teaches us a lot of tricks,” Caroline says. “Like if an eggshell drops into the egg, don’t chase the eggshell around. Use another eggshell to retrieve it. They’re somehow attracted to each other.”
When the family moved to Chapel Hill in summer 2022, their at-home business moved with the rising juniors at East Chapel Hill High School. “We wanted to continue our passion for baking and also share [foods] from our international travels,” Caroline says of continuing their venture stateside.
Their extensive experience abroad serves as an inspiration for much of their baking. The Paris-born pair had moved to Singapore – where their mom hails from – when they were 7 years old. “She wanted us to know Singapore, be with our Singapore family as well as travel in Asia,” AJ says. They then moved to Chapel Hill in order to acclimate to the United States before college and “to ride bikes and go skiing more often,” which wasn’t possible in flat Singapore.
Each bake sale they host has one treat each from three different categories: an all-time favorite, a creative and an international dessert. “An all-time favorite could be chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin [cookies],” Caroline says. “A creative could be something like a Fluffernutter, which is peanut butter and marshmallows, or confetti cookies.” Some of their international creations include ube cookies, which are made from purple yams, and “matcha namas.”
In May, Caroline and AJ hosted a pop-up sale on Franklin Street, offering Tea Hill customers chocolate chip cookies, ube cookies and a trio of Sanrio character cookies to accompany their bubble teas. “Surprisingly, a lot of people liked the ube cookies,” Caroline says, which was unexpected since it was most people’s first time trying the Filipino treat. The sale accomplished one of their main goals in bringing their bakery to Chapel Hill: “To share our travels with our community … and neighborhood,” AJ says.
The pair host their online bake sales twice a month, giving them a week to generate all the creative pieces, such as trying new recipes and designing flyers, and then another week to just bake. They have enjoyed the experience of working with each other in a professional capacity, each pitching in to make the bake sales successful. “Because there’s so many different things we have to do for our big sales … we kind of do a little bit of everything. But we definitely play to our strengths, like Caroline making all the visuals, [including] the flyers and the [thank-you] cards, [while] I’m working on the route for deliveries,” AJ says.
Since the twins always deliver on foot – or by bike – they take a break during the summer months when it becomes too hot to carry out their deliveries. They spend their break testing recipes, resting and hanging out with their friends. Recently the twins have been experimenting with savory items including corn cookies, sourdough bread and caramelized onion bread in addition to sweet ones like blueberry bagels and cherry clafoutis.
Before deciding which desserts they will make for the coming sale, the twins head to the local grocery stores and ride their bikes to the Carrboro Farmers Market to find ingredients that are in season. In addition to incorporating local, organic ingredients – such as Lady Edison salami or organic sprinkles from Weaver Street Market – Caroline and AJ make sure that they are using quality ingredients. She says, “We go by this saying that, ‘If we can’t pronounce it, then we don’t include it in our cookies.’” In the fall, the twins will start baking again. Now that they have established themselves, their ambitions for the bakery have grown. In addition to planning a pop-up bake sale in August, Caroline and AJ would love to create a baking club at school to be able to reach their school community. If the idea is approved, they will form a group where, once a month, their classmates can learn new recipes.
“Many of our school friends don’t have access to nice treats at school,” Caroline says. “There are many clubs that do charity for groups outside of school, but none for our own school. We thought it would be nice to give to our own school community.”
According to Caroline, the bakery has been successful in Chapel Hill not only because they have gained traction with their sales, but because it has given them the opportunity to meet so many new people. “We have a lot of people who continually buy from us,” she says. “We are really touched by their encouragement.”