Originally published in Carolina Shore. All the words in italics are my asides to you, all three of my blog readers. :)
On the corner of Bridges and Friendly in Morehead City, a market is growing and blooming into a local landmark. From the road it looks a bit like a barn, but from the parking lot it looks like a buzzing marketplace. Matt and Mindy Fitzpatrick are the dynamic duo behind The Friendly Market. Both are energetic and intensely invested in their business, but also friendly and open. It was clear that they are consistently on each other’s team as they took every opportunity to praise one another, and give credit where credit is due. Mindy attributes the original idea for the market to Matt, while he readily admits that it was her cooking that brought most of their customers to the corner.
People were everywhere. Saturday shoppers meandered through the outdoor nursery and produce stand, ignoring the gathering clouds entirely and focusing instead on enormous watermelons and bouquets of freshly picked wildflowers. The porch in front of Mindy’s Baked Goods seemed to be designed as an invitation for people to sit down and stay a while, with rocking chairs and a view of a garden in bloom. The store was a revolving door of people coming in to get that night’s dinner from the refrigerated case lining the back wall, individuals looking for a legendary dessert, and customers just perusing. In the kitchen things were even busier. Sweet and savory smells mingle in the air as about ten employees in bright tie dye shirts peel, chop, bake, and operate a mixer the size of a small bathtub. Several different kinds of pie radiate heat from the cooling rack, just a step away from trays brimming with tomato cheese biscuits. On the stove a stock pot full of chicken is slowly bubbling, while peaches were being diced nearby for sweet salsa. Everyone was hopping busy, but not frantic. Mindy was at the helm, talking everything from marketing to new recipes in a way that gave the idea she never tires of this business they have taken years to build.
The Friendly Market started up as a farmer’s market of sorts in 2008. Matt was in housing at the time and when the real estate bubble burst, the Fitzpatricks could see the writing on the wall. With almost no funds to develop the idea, Matt and Mindy organized a market of pop-up tents on land they had inherited from her parents. On most weekdays the corner sold produce and plants, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays they had a full-fledged farmer’s market with art, handmade items, and baked goods. At The Friendly Market’s inception Mindy was one of the Saturday vendors, selling cookies and pies out of the back of her car. Right off the bat, Mindy wanted to offer dishes that were unique, something you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find at a farmer’s market. As demand for her wares grew, the Fitzpatricks realized they needed to be open seven days a week, selling what brought customers to the corner in the first place: crack. No, not that kind of crack; the general public renamed Mindy’s famous Market Pies, calling them Crack Pies due to their chocolaty, addictive qualities. Classic recipes like this built the corner, according to Mindy. It just made sense to open up a kitchen to give customers more of the food they were looking for.
Every time I see this photo, I get an insatiable chocolate craving. Just LOOK at that icing!
Although Mindy was not a professionally trained cook, she has a keen sense for what makes truly good food. Traveling frequently with her basketball teams throughout highschool and college provided her with a broad array of foods to reference in her own work. In addition to this, making food that appeals to the masses runs in her family. Her grandfather was Cap’n Bill of Morehead City’s famed boardwalk restaurant, her father was a phenomenal home cook, and her mother made cookies that were so legendary, Mindy would get pulled over just so the policeman could get a dozen or two. Betty Baillou carefully kept the recipe for these cookies a secret until close to her death. After she passed, her family honored her request to be cremated and buried in her cookie tin. Was the recipe worth all the fuss? Named “Bettys” after their creator, those cookies are still one of The Friendly Market’s best sellers, after almost ten years of operation. Bettys were one of the staple products that made Matt and Mindy come to the decision it was time to build a kitchen on site.
The original kitchen was essentially a 16x20 foot box with basic kitchen equipment. Although it did allow them expand to more food than just baked goods (by state law any food that needs refrigeration has to be cooked in an industrial kitchen), it was not fancy by any means. Their equipment came down to two fridges, a hot dog roller, a utility stainless steel table, a KitchenAid mixer, and one oven. It was enough to grow and evolve yet again. When the business changes, it is always a result of the Fitzpatricks listening to their customers. The Friendly Market makes shifts based on customer response, either through clear buying habits or actual feedback. Fully aware of the challenges that come with a constantly growing business, Matt and Mindy take it on readily, knowing that the cost of not being willing to change would be even greater. Matt said,
“It’s not easy. It takes effort, it takes creativity, it takes time and money, but you have to evolve. If we were with our original business plan right now, we would be here right now.”
One of the shifts they made was to start producing more and more savory food, from recipes Mindy developed with input from the staff and Matt. Some of the signature dishes produced by the kitchen were almost an accident, while others took more time. Her famous tomato cheese (think pimento, but with roasted tomatoes and more depth of flavor) was whipped up on a whim for a New Year’s Eve party. It was one of those one-in-a-million recipes that has not changed since. Their blue collard dip was created as a ploy to prove to Matt that he could enjoy collards - despite liking the dip, he still argues that anything would taste good with the other ingredients, which involve most of the delicious dairy products known to God and man accompanied by bacon. Premade dinners for families of four or more were soon flying out of the kitchen as well, made by an always growing task force.
These two were making a sweet peach salsa, which looked awesome. They were also very patient with me as I joined the kitchen dance around their work station, trying to get a couple of different shots. When I asked for names, the guy said I could call him whatever. I asked what his mother called him, and he told me a few unprintable words, before finally caving - his name was Cameron.
Mindy could not stop bragging on her staff. She and Matt had just gotten back from a two week family trip to New York, where they had complete peace of mind because of their capable, trustworthy employees. Drawing from her athletic background, Mindy said,
“It’s better to have a team play with you than for you, and encourage people to lead, too. It makes for a happier place.” Both she and Matt have tried to alleviate the pressure often found in industrial kitchens by allowing freedom to experiment, to give honest feedback and make mistakes - as long as all of this helps the employee learn. The work environment and close knit community that Mindy and Matt have created help attract a talented, hard working staff, which Mindy said is one of their greatest assets.
The Fitzpatrick family dog, Sally No. Sal is the Friendly Market mascot, more popular than any staff or family members.
The Fitzpatricks do not view employment at The Friendly Market as only a summer job, or something to get kids through college; they see it as the start of a long term relationship, something that will help form their employees into the person they are meant to be. “It’s like one family,” Mindy said. “With our customers, our staff, farmers and growers, we’re one big family now. And we need to take care of that.”
They have created a family environment. The Friendly Market has an affectionate and cohesive staff, with plenty of hugs to go around. Jennifer Lee, the woman who runs their produce section and greets most female customers with, “Hello, beautiful!” said she loves Mindy to the moon and back. Kimber, who works in the kitchen on weekends, spends her weekdays serving the school system. She said that to her, working in Mindy’s Baked Goods on her two free days is like therapy. Watching each person wearing tie dye interact with Mindy makes it clear that she has a fierce, protective care for them, something akin to a mama bear. The love that Mindy and her staff have for each other is not of the syrupy-sweet, melt-away-in-the-rain variety. It’s more of a hearty, drop-everything-and-make-soup-for-a-sick-friend kind of love, and it bleeds through their work, into their customers and community.
From its very earliest days, The Friendly Market has been about the business of bringing people together; customers, local sellers, employees and family have all been folded into the journey. In doing this, Mindy and Matt have created a place where customers can expect quality products and a welcoming community.