If you're looking for a mouthwateringly good biscuit, search no further than Early Bird Biscuit Co., where we met owner Tim Laxton. From the hometown of rural Accomack on the eastern shore of Virginia, Tim's family shared a connection bridged by meals and stories about Mattie Belle's (Tim's maternal grandmother) biscuits. Tim's passion for baking dates back to his childhood, a time when he was encouraged to try recipes found in church cookbooks or handwritten index cards passed down from friends and family.
With a family history of excellent bakers, Tim was a natural. His first attempt was a hit - a souffle that taught him the importance of good technique. He's come a long way from humble beginnings. Growing up, biscuits were always a Sunday staple, which led him to his goal of making a delicious handcrafted biscuit. And that's just what he did. Dare we say it's the best biscuit you will find in Virginia.
When Tim first discovered the location that is now his home away from home, he knew the undusted walls and barren space had great potential. From his grandfather's rolling pin handcrafted in the 1800's to the restoration of the bakery, Tim finds a way to revive old objects that tell a story. Upon entering the bakery, you get this cozy feeling that is as warm and inviting as the food. Decorated with nostalgia, Tim welcomes you with hand painted art, a rolling pin wall fixture, a book from his childhood and namesake The Early Bird, and vintage radios.The hole in the wall is sequestered in Northside at 5411 Lakeside Ave.
It doesn't stop there. Tim is also serving up the best cup of joe to accompany your homemade biscuits. During our visit, Blanchard's coffee delivered the first batch of their collaboration with Early Bird Biscuit Co. called the Early Bird Blend, which Tim informed us was the product of a focus group that helped create the flavors. Early Bird Blend along with other coffee varieties are available on pour and for sale at the bakery.
Devoting most of his time to the bakery, Tim has exhibited remarkable craftsmanship since opening his doors in July of this year. Tim's savory buttermilk biscuits are well received by anyone who has discovered this best kept secret. We are proud to present the WORK Folks title to Tim Laxton.
To many more stories, biscuits, and wisdom from Tim!
Who are you, what do you do, and why does it matter?
TL: I'm Tim Laxton, owner and proprietor of Early Bird Biscuit Co. I make biscuits and handcrafted items for people because it makes them happy and it brings back something that has long since disappeared. People don’t take the time to make those things anymore.
How did your biscuit business begin?
TL: We started back on July 11th when we opened our doors and had all intentions of it being a soft opening. Folks found out about us and our homemade goods and decided to come see what were about over on Lakeside. We make all our biscuits and jam here in-house.
What inspired the name Early Bird?
TL: My favorite children's book which is prominently displayed in the case. There are a few pages in the book that are quite worn because they had such a spot in my life as a kid. my nickname as a kid was 'The Bird' so it was a natural conclusion.
When did you first start baking?
TL: I started baking as a child just dabbling in the kitchen. My parents were really helpful in encouraging us to do what we like to do. And through the learning process they encouraged us to seek out knowledge and look up things up in encyclopedias.When it came to a recipe, there was a big library of cookbooks in my Mom's pantry that she would often encourage us to go look through when we wanted to find out what something tasted like.
She would encourage us to flip through the pages just to see a recipe that may not exist anymore - recipes that people don’t make anymore. She was quite the baker herself. She made incredible biscuits passed down from her mother. The biscuits that I make are a modified version of that biscuit and a whole lot more butter.
What family tradition is used at the bakery?
TL: I remember my father used to sit at a wooden table and eat his hot biscuits that my mom had just made with a pat of butter poured with blackstrap molasses. He used to take a fork and mash until l it was incorporated and about the color of a penny. So I decided I was going to offer it as a condiment for the biscuits. People go nuts over it. Every Saturday on the fly, we will mix up a batch of blackstrap molasses butter. It's my homage for my father doing that.
What's the best advice your grandma gave you?
TL: We went to visit her one time and she was making cookies for her elderly neighbor whom had dentures and my grandmother said, "Don’t bake them too long or she won’t be able to eat them."
We believe work is more important than your job. What's your take on this?
TL: I usually get here in the morning at about four thirty or five o'clock and usually don’t leave until about seven. I've never worked so hard in my life but then I've never enjoyed what I do so much in my life. I give every element of my being into my craft to make a product that you just can't find anymore.
I've searched Richmond over to find a good biscuit and I knew that I had good biscuits. I know that they can be made but people don’t make them anymore. I just knew there was a place for that. If you think about it, it's like a tortilla. It's like a French baguette. It’s a vehicle for something amazing. That’s where our lunch comes into play - we put really good pimento cheese on a biscuit and it becomes something crazy.
What does craftsmanship mean to you?
TL: I think it's touching every part of the product. It's touching every part of the process. As an art major we often had to go through critiques on a weekly level and I just remember one of instructors (when discussing a particular sculpture) asked one of the folks in my class, “Did you make the nails?", and I just remembered how that stuck with me. I remember thinking about taking a process down to its finest element and making that finest element. I like to think I touched just about every part of the process here.
What made you appreciate craftsmanship growing up?
TL: I was never afraid to go out and grab a piece of wood, a saw and nails and just make something. Both of my parents encouraged me to do that. I used to dabble at home with different projects. I wasn’t afraid to try new things. I wasn’t always successful. I think the freedom that my family gave to try new things was very empowering.
What makes your technique unlike anyone else?
It’s a whole lot of love and its very little handling. We pull the dough together just enough to work it out on a surface and roll it out with a rolling pin. It’s a gentle touch.
What is the most important part of running a bakery?
TL: I would say it’s the people that work with you. It's the people that represent this product and how they handle the folks that come through the door. We like to make sure that when people walk through the door, they are acknowledged immediately.
We don’t take for granted that people are going to come just because we have good food. We're very appreciative of every soul that walks through that door and the energy that they bring to us because that’s what drives me and drives my craft.
What's your favorite part of the day?
TL: I'd say the moments just before I open. there’s probably about 15 minutes of crazy crunch time when I know that there are cars in the parking lot and I'm trying to make sure that I have several trays of each kind biscuits. I'm trying to make sure the jam is ready to go. I'm trying to make sure the coffee is ready to go. No matter how prepared I am there’s always that 15 minutes of adrenaline when I know that I have to be on and ready and I don’t want people to have to wait when they get here.
What influenced the style and flavors of your food?
TL: I think its something that we all have in common. It's deeply southern and rooted in family and tradition - things that just don’t really exist anymore. A lot of the products that I make in this bakery, even some of the pimento cheese that we make are things that people might pop a lid or open a can to make, but its not something people necessarily go out and purvey the ingredients to make anymore - to seek out the best butter and the best flour. We use a Virginia mill flour, keeping things just about as local as we can.
Without revealing your secret (unless you want to), what make a true Early Bird biscuit?
TL: Patience. Sometimes things don’t always work the way you want them to. As for a handy tool, I'd say a rolling pin, but a box grater probably trumps that.
What's a must try at the bakery?
TL: Oh, you have to try the biscuits!
What's the craziest biscuit you have ever made?
TL: Supercalifragibiscuit. The name came before the actual biscuit. The fun part about this place is that I have such an incredible group of people that work with me. We have fun with puns we had a pastry case full of puns one weekend.
We knew whatever what was in that biscuit had to measure up to the name. It was a combination of mini chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles (because life is all about the sprinkles), and a sugar glaze. The only thing that was missing was a little bit of glitter.
If you weren't baking what would you be doing?
TL: Traveling. Traveling is education. I'm drawn to Asian cuisine. I've taken cooking classes just about every place I’ve traveled to. I’m fascinated by border cuisines - the place where two cultures or two different groups meet in their food. It's that place that happens when things sort of blur a little.
Tell us about how you built up the bakery.
TL: I like to in my spare time go to flea markets and vintage antique places. I like things with a pop of color or something that has a story. As you can see on the wall, I collect a lot of rolling pins. I like to think that those rolling pins have been handled by a lot of loving hands. There are a lot of gentle spirits in this place.
Even my mixing bowls have a story. Those have made many recipes. The pots up on the wall that were given to me by my mother. The cuckoo clock was given to me by my grandmother. The rolling pin that I use to make every single biscuit every single day for every single person was handcrafted by my great grandfather in the 1800's.
How does the décor of the bakery play a part in your style?
One of the most fun parts of the process was choosing the things that went into the bakery. I knew that I needed a bakery case and I knew in my mind what I wanted it to look like. I wanted it to be a focal point. I found the pastry case in an online auction locally and it was directly from the mid century era that I wanted.
I also wanted to display the pastries on something other than just a standard white plate. So I was thinking to myself, "What would be kind of quirky and a little kitschy?" ...and I thought state plates. I mean what else are you going to do with state plates; they're going to hang on a wall of a really bad house. A lot of the stuff in here is tongue in cheek and also very intentional. There are things I've displayed here given to me by someone mostly family members, not even with the intention of opening the bakery in some cases.
What about the vintage radios and books on your shelf?
The radios I actually started collecting because I wanted to bring a pop of color and I thought that might resonate with some older people. I have a lot of older folks that will actually talk about the time when FM became a thing. I play different types of music that usually is not of the era that they grew up with so it’s sort of my way to bridge the past with the present
The books on the shelf are different ways to show what our lifestyle is here at the bakery. We show people they can make these things. They can make these biscuits at home. They can look at some of the flavors that we introduce.
What's the future of Early Bird Biscuit Co.?
TL: Besides serving amazing biscuits, we’ve partnered with Blanchard’s coffee company We are very excited to announce that because of a result of about 16 folks that participated in a focus group we have chosen what is now our Early Bird Blend. We have it on pour and for sale in the bakery as well. We will continue to offer darkest dark since that’s a crowd favorite. We offer a pour over of a variety of different coffees – decafs and things of that sort.
For more on Early Bird Biscuit Co. visit here.