Westminster's 'Muffin Lady' is back in business Fire Department provides commercial kitchen

February 02, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Three weeks after the Carroll County Health Department shut down her bakery on wheels, Westminster's Muffin Lady is back in business.

Armed with the required cooking license and baking in an approved commercial kitchen donated by the local volunteer Fire Department, Linda Fisher made her comeback Friday on the streets of downtown Westminster, selling her fresh-baked goods for $1.25 apiece from her trademark red wagon.

Drivers honked and flashed Fisher the thumbs-up sign as she made her way through town, delivering muffins and cinnamon buns to Westminster office workers.

"You're in business! What you got there, girl?" said one of Fisher's regular customers at the Avenue Tailor and Cleaners before buying a muffin.

"You better have chocolate chip on Monday," the woman told Fisher as she rolled on to her next stop.

A baker for 19 years, Fisher, 47, began selling her just-out-of-the-oven treats from her Radio Flyer wagon last summer. Laid off from her job at a Westminster retirement community, she relied on the income from the muffin sales -- usually about $100 a week after expenses -- to help support herself and her 14-year-old son.

After learning about Fisher from an article in The Sun, three county Health Department sanitarians met her as she set out on her 7-mile route and told her she could no longer make her daily deliveries. Fisher, who baked in the kitchen of her downtown Westminster home, had to find a licensed commercial kitchen to continue her business.

She understood the department's position, but the action came as a blow to the fiercely independent woman. Fisher saw her business as a way to practice her profession and take care of her son, for whom she receives child support.

"America was built on the entrepreneurial spirit," said Fisher, who lives in subsidized housing but was determined to avoid any other form of public assistance.

"I wasn't raised that way; I've got too much pride."

Upon hearing of Fisher's dilemma, the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department offered her the use of the commercial kitchen in their Main Street building.

"It was a chance to give somebody a helping hand, and that's what we're about anyway," said James E. Bangerd III, Fire Department president. "I think she's got a lot of spunk to tackle this."

Fisher left her home Friday morning at 3 a.m., her wagon loaded with baking supplies, and walked the mile to her new four-oven kitchen. Despite a few glitches -- leaving the chocolate chips at home and getting used to the new ovens -- Fisher emerged from the Fire Department at the start of the workday with five dozen muffins. After making some sales to a few hungry firefighters, she was off.

"At first I was scared; I wished I could have been invisible and let the wagon just roll along," she said, midway through her route. "But now that I'm over my anxiety attack, it feels great.

"All of my customers are good people."

Although Fisher lost one of her main sources of income during her involuntary hiatus, the temporary shutdown led to positive developments for her business. The publicity about her plight raised her profile, and she picked up new accounts. An anonymous supporter paid for Fisher's $60 license and another anonymous benefactor -- through the Community Foundation of Carroll County -- has offered her a car.

So Fisher, a self-described city girl who doesn't drive, may soon be giving up her wagon. A friend has offered to pay for driving lessons and car insurance.

"I feel good about driving," she said.

Michael G. Fish, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center of Central Maryland, wants Fisher to shift the focus of her business from door-to-door sales to higher volume baking so she can make a profit. But she'll need another Health Department license to sell her goods on a wholesale basis.

"It would allow her to make more than a dozen muffins here or there and get accounts that will be able to buy larger quantities on a more consistent basis," Fish said.

Fisher appreciates the advice, but for now she's getting used to her new kitchen and catching up with her customers.

"I just want to get back on the road and see what's happening," she said.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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