Most Saturdays in Charleston, South Carolina, locals, and visitors intent on picking up a box of pastries from Welton’s Tiny Bake Shop know to arrive early and join the queue. Limited by its cozy space, the bakery often sees lines stretch out front during busy times, but owners Zachary and Hannah Welton make sure customers stay delighted with snacks as they wait their turn.
From the hustle and bustle of upscale kitchens to the comforting aroma of their bake shop, their journey is a testament to their commitment to redefine success.
The couple first met when they simultaneously landed in Charleston, lured by the opportunity to work at Sean Brock’s Husk. Hannah from Houston, Texas and Zachary from Upstate New York were both looking for spaces that would challenge them creatively,”I was eager to grow in an intimate, dynamic kitchen – an environment where I could push myself,” says Hannah. “I met Zachary on my first day of work. It was sweet! Initially, he was more of a mentor and coach — a point of inspiration – before anything blossomed between us. This relationship still exists today. He’s like my main person, the one who checks all of my sauce work and still pushes me to be the absolute best baker and cook I can be. He’s still that coach, and also my husband, which is pretty sweet. It’s a unique balance to maintain, but I think we manage it quite beautifully.”
Zachary, who always had a passion for food, started cooking in restaurants early on. “I was super excited about this restaurant due to its innovative cuisine with a heavy focus on local and seasonal ingredients. This kind of rustic yet refined, wood-fire cooking was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Charleston: The Start of a Sweet Dream
The couple worked at Husk for three years, which Hannah describes as “a demanding, yet rewarding journey.”
At the tail end of their three-year time at Husk, they had the opportunity to travel to Italy, where they fell in love with the slow food movement. They returned from Italy inspired and gave Husk a two-month notice. There, they took a private chef job in Washington State. While the stint only lasted 30 days, it led to an impactful cross-country road trip. “We got engaged during this journey; many wonderful things happened. But rather quickly, we realized that this opportunity would not offer the quality of life we were looking for,” says Hannah.
From Washington State, they moved to Tulum, Mexico, where they worked at Harwood, an off-grid, open-air restaurant, “This period was incredibly magical. We were surrounded by folks from all over the world — Switzerland, Mexico City, Connecticut, Texas, Guatemala. It was a special time in our lives as we worked in a kitchen with a few outlets and a wood-fired oven.”
The produce and seafood were brought in daily, ice was delivered three times a day, and everything was prepared fresh. “It was a wildly exciting, literally jungle-like place to work. This experience — in its raw form — opened our eyes even further, clarifying what’s important to us and refining our cooking style,” shared the couple.
The Pandemic Pivot
In 2019, the chefs shifted base from Tulum to Houston, Hannah’s hometown. The transition from a small town to a bustling city was a significant adjustment, but they found footing at a restaurant hospitality group where they worked sous chefs.
During the initial pandemic, the couple appreciated their job stability but soon felt a misalignment with the company’s vision, compelling them to explore new ventures like sending recipes to food companies and delivering virtual cooking classes. “Many in the industry seemed a bit lost, trying to find personal fulfillment… we started contemplating our next move,” Hannah reflects.
Their resolve led them to Albany, New York, hoping for a better opportunity, only to face the harsh reality of the pandemic. Letting go of staff members after a substantial Thanksgiving service and a challenging work environment prompted them to reevaluate their situation.
The Weltons’ Charleston Return
Turning towards their original dream of a pizza operation, they acquired a wood-fired oven and began planning. “We devised a business plan for a pizza operation – something we’d always dreamed of…,” they share. After hopes to tie it into their current restaurant roles were turned down by restaurant ownership, it was time to make a change.
Finally, they decided to leave New York and relocate to Charleston. “From the quality of the water to the remarkable produce that springs from its soil, there’s a deep connection to be found in the region’s long history of farming. This sense of pride in their hearts and the profound connection to food is something that may be found elsewhere but, in our case, Charleston is where we truly find our passion.” Zachary concludes.
With a new wood-fired oven in tow, Hannah and Zachary eagerly started planning the next phase of their culinary journey: the inception of Welton’s Fine Foods, their special events and catering business. Inspired by their shared passion for artisan baking and pizza-making, their catering business became the platform through which they navigated a challenging job market.
The pizza pop-ups and broader catering service offered a fresh avenue to employ their skills while providing an innovative solution amidst a tumultuous professional landscape. The duo’s innovativeness became their advantage, resulting in a unique business that flourished despite difficulty.
Life at the Bakeshop
Today, it operates from a small (think 956-square-foot) but thriving bakery and pizza shop in downtown Charleston. Housed in a quaint storefront, they produce artisanal bread, pastries, and more using primarily local ingredients.
The bakery bustles with activity. Zachary and Hannah’s wood-fired oven turns out dozens of loaves of sourdough bread daily alongside seasonal specialties. Customer favorites like honey pie, kouign amann, and savory focaccia are meticulously handcrafted in small batches.
Beyond the Oven: Cultivating Culture
While both businesses have grown, Zachary and Hannah remain committed to fostering a supportive work environment in their small space. They see their team as employees and individuals with unique passions and goals.
“It’s unrealistic to think you will have them for the rest of their careers. People’s lives change, and people’s goals change. And it’s important to support people in whatever direction they want, whether with you or somewhere else. And that’s something that we try to be as supportive as possible for our team and help them achieve their goals, even if that means it’s not with us.
Through open communication and encouraging creativity, they empower their staff to find fulfillment in their roles.
“We really promote team conversations, where we spend time with each other on Sundays and pick chestnuts and eat pizza and drink wine at the end of our busy week and just a lot of verbal communication has been a really big win,” says Hannah.
Success for the Weltons isn’t just about pioneering in the culinary world—it’s also about maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle. Even while growing their culinary empire, they have found their rhythm and wisdom to build thriving professional and personal lives on their terms.
Hannah shares that finding balance involves setting boundaries. “At 5 pm, we mentally turn off the switch and cook dinner. We don’t talk about work; instead, we talk about each other, Cookie, our dog, dreams, and simply enjoy each other’s company. Having those barriers and borders on our day is vital, especially since our day starts at 2:45 in the morning.
“We need to have some control, which goes hand-in-hand with striving for the best quality of life. Our focus isn’t solely on business and making money, but also on each other and our collective happiness.”
More than churning out delicious baked goods, the Weltons aim to cultivate community. They want their bake shop to be where people feel heard, respected, and able to achieve their full potential, whether with Welton’s or beyond. This philosophy is what drives their success. Each sourdough loaf, a slice of honey pie, and focaccia tell a story of making food on their terms in this tiny place.