Nicole West lives on the family farm. As I pull up the driveway, I am greeted by tail wagging farm dogs and the sweet aroma of fresh baked bread.
The family farm was started by Justin Dove, in the 1940s as Rockingham Poultry, and Dove’s Electric Hatchery. The entrepreneurial spirit has trickled down through the generations.
“I have always enjoyed baking, and the love for that started long, long ago, when I was young, and my cousin gave me a Mickey Mouse cookbook. That was the start of it – and I would make Big Bad Wolf brownies! I would take them out here, this farm was very active when I was young. All of my family worked out here when I was young, and of course all now have retired. So that’s what I would do, is make the brownies and share them with my uncles and whoever. My mom got sick when I was 16, and I had to take over. That was the first time I ever made a pie by myself, bread, or anything like that. I really enjoyed it. But life happens along the way.”
“I was going to be an English teacher, that didn’t work out. I raised 4 children, then went to work at JMU in Finance, Budgeting, and Operations.” All of her life and work experience, plus obtaining her bachelor’s degree, helped with what she is doing today.
During Covid, Nicole was working remotely, and realized that she preferred being home, and did not want to continue doing what she was doing. That is when the idea of baking as a business came to be.
Although she bakes every day, Nicole is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, taking Tuesdays off to be with her granddaughter, Lainey, ‘because family is important! That is the beauty of having what I have, with pre-orders, so I have that flexibility.”
Once a month, you can find her booth at the Broadway Community Farmers Market with orders and items to buy. She usually always sells out!
Niki’s favorite thing to make, “it depends on the day, and how busy I am”, is probably bread, because there are less steps, but her favorite things to make are probably pies, maybe because that is one of her favorite desserts!
Raisin cinnamon bread is fun to make too. ” Everything I make, I try to make completely from scratch, I’d say 99 percent of what I make is. And I make everything fresh. If you order it that day, I’m going to make it that day. The quality of something is very important to me. If I am not willing to eat it myself, you won’t see it.”
The most popular things are the raisin cinnamon bread, jalapeno cheddar bread, pepperoni rolls, doughnuts. Doughnuts though “are time intensive and need time to rise, on a really hot day, if you can’t do them in the way you need to, they raise too much. When you put them in the fryer they deflate. I have had to understand and learn what makes me satisfied with what I am doing, and not overwhelmed by what I am doing.”
Along with decadent desserts and doughnuts (including filled!), you can even order pumpkin and peanut butter dog treats! I’m sure they passed the farm dogs’ taste test!
On April 1st, Nicole will have been in business 2 years, and Chicken Scratch Bakery is in the running of top 5 of DNR Best in the Valley. What a great accomplishment and a testament to her customers loving her tasty baked goods! Last year, Niki won Shenandoah Valley Best. She says she is her own biggest competitor, although she is different from everyone else in what she creates.
Future plans include turning an old outbuilding next to the farmhouse into a bakery space and customer area. Part of the wall where her grandparents and uncles wrote notes – chicken scratch history!- will be preserved behind a plexiglass frame. Sections of the old floor will be repurposed in the entryway walls.
If you would like to order some of her goodies, and you know you do- follow her on Facebook, or check out her website. Nicole will post menus of what is being made, and the day she will be at the Market each month. You can place your orders online or on the phone and arrange pickups. Plus, you can follow the Tuesday adventures with future baker Lainey, and the progress of the future bakery space.
Chicken Scratch Bakery LLC
805 Mayland Rd