Baker's treats are on a roll Working: After she was laid off, Linda Fisher took her cooking talents to the streets of Westminster, where she has won loyal customers with her just-baked muffins and cinnamon rolls.

November 26, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

She's a Mrs. Fields on wheels -- wagon wheels, that is.

Every weekday morning after a full night of baking, Linda Fisher loads up her red Radio Flyer wagon and rolls her freshly baked muffins and cinnamon buns through the streets of Westminster. At the stops along her seven-mile route, customers have quickly developed a taste for her just-out-of-the-oven products.

"Great muffins. Great muffins," raves Susan Dorsey, assistant director of academic skills at Western Maryland College. "I like them because when you open them up, the chocolate chips are all the way through, not just on top. It's not like you get all excited for nothing."

In her 19 years as a professional baker, Fisher, 47, has sold her baked goods in more traditional settings -- restaurants, delis, pastry shops. That changed when she was laid off from her food service job last year at a retirement community in Westminster.

Fisher, who doesn't drive -- "I'm a city girl," she explains -- started filling four baskets with homemade goods and walking the two miles from her former home just outside Westminster into town each day to sell her treats to office workers.

She developed a following and in July, one of her customers, Marti O'Connell, the director of admissions at Western Maryland College, offered Fisher the use of a wagon in her basement.

Fisher's customers, who know her as the "Muffin Lady," constantly worry about the small, wiry woman dragging her wagon around Westminster, dodging cars and dogs to sell her treats for $1 apiece.

Fisher goes about her daily routine to support herself and her 13-year-old son.

"You don't know how many people have told me, 'You need to give this up, it's not a real job,' " Fisher said. "Anytime somebody has a dream, a goal, an ambition, there are going to be a lot of obstacles in your path."

Fisher, who moved to a rent-subsidized townhouse in downtown Westminster three weeks ago after being evicted from her house for overdue rent, takes pride in the fact that a one-time emergency rental assistance payment is the only other form of public assistance that she's sought since losing her job.

"There are no food stamps, got that?" she said. "I'm trying to build a business brick by brick."

Fisher keeps baker's hours, catching sleep in two- or three-hour blocks whenever she can. She usually begins baking about 2 a.m., relying on a pot of strong coffee and the television and radio to keep her going.

"Some nights it gets very depressing," she said. "I feel as though I'm on a long journey."

A night's baking fills two large baskets with six dozen muffins and cinnamon buns, and by 7: 30 a.m., Fisher maneuvers the wagon out her back door, baskets secured with an elastic cord.

Frost was still on the ground and the temperature was 27 degrees one morning last week when Fisher began her route. Wearing four layers of clothing, sunglasses and listening to jazz on her Walkman, she hit the streets.

"Muffins," she yells at her first stop, Avenue Tailor & Cleaners. "Today's offerings are chocolate chip, blueberry and pina colada." The steam rising from the cinnamon buns leaves condensation on their plastic-wrap coverings.

"Oh my, they're as warm as toast," one customer comments before buying a bun.

After chatting a bit, Fisher continues on her route. She walks quickly, drawing curious looks from drivers and barks from neighborhood dogs.

"You're walking in the road, dealing with traffic and praying to God that nobody hits you," she says, taking her usual cigarette break at Sherwood Drive and Railroad Avenue.

Her arrival at the county detention center is greeted with shouts of "Where's the Muffin Lady? Where's the Muffin Queen?" from )) the guards and drug counselors who stop for their morning snacks.

Fisher's morning continues, with stops at the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, Union National Bank and Human Services Programs, a social services agency. She schmoozes with her customers who fret about their diets, but buy cinnamon buns anyway.

"She doesn't look like she's eating her wares, but she's doing her best to fatten the rest of us up," says David Daggett, a Carroll County assistant state's attorney.

Daggett, with many of Fisher's other customers, has encouraged her to raise her prices, apply for a small business loan and hire help. She did increase the price of her goods from 50 cents to $1, and a friend makes deliveries to a few businesses outside downtown Westminster.

Last month, armed with reference letters from more than a dozen customers, she met with a loan officer at a local bank. Fisher said the banker told her that she didn't have the required documentation for a loan. She's been too busy baking to get the paperwork together.

O'Connell wonders how Fisher is going to take her business to the next level.

"She's articulate and intelligent about what she wants to do with her business," O'Connell said. "Her main drawback is she doesn't have the capital to expand."

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