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Mitchell Dosa pulls a 50-pound bag of flour off a stack at Strong Arm Baking Co. As the restaurant’s baker, Dosa will use another six bags of flour to mix

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Mitchell Dosa pulls a 50-pound bag of flour off a stack at Strong Arm Baking Co. As the restaurant’s baker, Dosa will use another six bags of flour to mix

Mitchell Dosa pulls a 50-pound bag of flour off a stack at Strong Arm Baking Co. As the restaurant’s baker, Dosa will use another six bags of flour to mix dough for 400 loaves of bread. Outside, it’s dark and quiet on this Friday evening in downtown Oxford. Inside, the bakery is humming. Friday is the busiest production day of the week. The pastry chefs will make hundreds of butter croissants and chocolate chip sea salt cookies, and dozens of the bakery’s much-beloved apple-bourbon cake for Saturday. And don’t forget about Dosa’s bread-baking marathon.

Strong Arm’s long production time inspired the bakery’s name. When you hear or see the word bakery, “we don’t want you to think about froufrou cupcakes,” says founder Julia Blaine, who started the bakery in 2014 with her husband, Thomas. “We want you to think about the fact that this beautiful loaf of bread was made by someone’s hands. It’s not magically created by machines. It’s all done by the loving hands of really hardworking people.”

Hands shape dough; outside of Strong Arm Baking Co. in Oxford, NC

At Strong Arm Baking Co. in downtown Oxford, the bread — sometimes 400 loaves at a time — is made by hand. The restaurant serves carefully crafted sweet and savory treats, too. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

When Dosa is finished, his loaves of 10-grain sourdough, focaccia, and ciabatta will be loaded into vans and a box truck for delivery to two dozen coffee shops and two farmers markets. Then, half a dozen other drivers will deliver the breads — plus spinach quiches, kale Caesar salads, Bolognese pasta, and green-chile pimento cheese from a weekly porch-drop menu — to hundreds of customers across the Triangle area.

Finally, there’s the bakery itself: A steady stream of friends and neighbors come in to enjoy a cup of coffee and a cinnamon toffee buttermilk muffin, or maybe a dark chocolate or spinach-and-cheese croissant.

• • •

Thomas and Julia met in high school in Granville County. (One pined for the other, but they aren’t saying which one.) They ended up together in their 20s — Julia worked in other people’s bakeries and Thomas in land management. Eventually, Thomas built a wood-fired brick oven in their backyard, and Julia started baking bread to sell at a farmers market on her days off.

Strong Arm Bakery owners Julia and Thomas Blaine

Julia and Thomas Blaine started Strong Arm out of their house in 2014. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

The couple started Strong Arm out of their Granville County home in 2014. They made dough in the sunroom. Occasionally, customers stopped by their backyard to pick up finished loaves. Before they had a kitchen door that led outside, Julia and Thomas passed loaves to each other through a window. They were ecstatic when they were able to hire a high schooler to wash dishes on Saturday mornings so they didn’t have to come home from the markets to a full sink. In 2017, they bought the 1890s building on Main Street that would become their production kitchen and storefront.

Since then, Strong Arm Baking has evolved beyond what Julia and Thomas originally envisioned. The couple’s home operation transformed into a busy business that now has about 70 employees. Some of those workers — including an engineer who designs the porch-drop delivery routes across five counties; a retired teacher who runs their stand at the Eno River Farmers Market; and the mayor of Franklinton, who is a delivery driver — started out as devoted customers.

The Peppa Pig Pizza from Strong Arm Bakery

Customers can enjoy hearty entrées, like the Peppa Pig pizza, at their brick-and-mortar location. photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

Despite the growth, the restaurant’s ethos of hard work hasn’t wavered. There are still long nights and days spent hauling bags of flour, baking bread, and making meals that people travel from around the county and beyond to try. But now, the Blaines have a few more helping hands.

Strong Arm Baking Co.
117 Main Street
Oxford, NC 27565
(919) 339-4350

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This story was published on Mar 25, 2024

Andrea Weigl

Weigl, a Pittsburgh native, came to the South to be a courthouse reporter. But it didn't take long for her to find her true loves: pimento cheese, shrimp and grits, and biscuits and gravy. She now writes about food for various publications and manages the food blog for newsobserver.com in Raleigh.