Tuesday, March 21, 2023

New Wilmington bakery serves its goods fresh and really early

The Red Eye Bakery in the Brooklyn Arts District. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — Elaine Brown, owner and baker at The Red Eye Bakery, got up so early it was almost the previous day. The effort shows – the counters of the bakery, in the Brooklyn Arts District, are covered in breads, cakes, croissants, cookies and cinnamon buns.


“I was up at 1 (a.m.) so we could open the store at five,” Brown said. “It can be hard to get used to, working almost the opposite schedule of everyone else.”

The Bakery opened on Sunday, the first day of the year, and then closed on Monday,  the day the bakery will be closed weekly. But Brown did not take the day off.

“She was in here all day,” said Melissa Streeter, Brown’s daughter and assistant in the bakery, “making more dough, getting things ready. Everything’s from scratch, so it takes a lot of time.”

Baked goods like croissants are notoriously labor-intensive, requiring skill, patience and lots of time. But Brown is no stranger to long hours. For many years, her career as a radiation safety technician kept her on the road, often six months out of the year.

“I didn’t work on the west coast that much, but I did travel almost everywhere else. Arizona, Idaho, all over,” she said. “I was living out of hotels, after a while, you know, that did get rough.”

Brown did get some inspiration from her constant traveling.

“A lot of the time, I’d be up and headed out of town pretty early, it was often hard to find a good bakery – really any place to get breakfast except a coffee shop. That’s part of the reason I opened up this place, definitely part of the reason we’re open so early. For people who are up early downtown, there isn’t much around.”


After a few years of baking for her friends and family, Brown decided to get serious about opening The Red Eye Bakery after “retiring from the nuclear business.” She said Wilmington seemed like a natural place to open up shop.

“We’ve lived in southeast North Carolina for about 30 years, between here and Southport. My daughter was born in Jacksonville. I was born in Southport. But I did grow up in Miami, and I was really spoiled by the good food down there,” she said. “There wasn’t anything like that, a good bakery in the downtown area. There are great cakes places and really great cupcakes places – that’s why I don’t make cupcakes – but nothing like this. I was looking at a place on Princess Street, at first, and a developer told me about this place. The neighborhood had grow and built up so much, it seemed right.”

The location needed repairs, including a new roof, but as Streeter pointed out, “most places we looked at needed ever more work, thousands of dollars of plumbing and electrical work, and that just weren’t set up for cooking, for industrial ovens or anything like that.”

Brown said other businesses in the neighborhood have been welcoming (while Port City Daily was visiting the bakery, several local business owners stopped in to welcome Brown and Streeter).

“Everyone’s been really nice, it feels good to be part of this neighborhood,” she said.

Mother and daughter – Melissa Streeter (lef) and Elaine Brown – support and serve Black Rifle coffee. “We just really like their philosophy,” Streeter said. “They support vets, but not just vets – they support police, firefighters, all the first responders. And it’s really good coffee. It’s what we drink at home.”

The Red Eye Bakery is located in downtown Wilmington at 1011 N. 4th St. and is open Tuesday-Sunday, 5 a.m. – 2 p.m. Owner Elaine Brown did say hour may change as the season progresses and demand for early-morning or late-afternoon baked goods change. Contact the bakery at (910) 769-2735 or theredeyebakery@gmail.com. For more information about the veteran-owned Black Rifle Coffee Company, visit its website.

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