There is a widely accepted cliché that chefs are dreadful people to work for. Many people imagine working in a kitchen to be as close to hell as it gets — getting harshly scolded for unintentional mistakes or being fired on the spot for measuring an ingredient incorrectly. They envision days in a brutally hot kitchen, void of friendly conversation or laughter. One might call this phenomenon the “Gordon Ramsay Effect,” thanks to shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” that depict chefs as devils in white coats — cold and egotistical. Pastry chefs, especially, have a reputation in the food world for being perfectionists that demand an environment free from mistakes.
The environment at Silver Spoon Bake Shop on Devine Street, however, is quite the opposite of what you might expect from a kitchen commanded by an immensely successful pastry chef. Erin Nobles attended the International Culinary Center in Manhattan and studied under renowned cake artist Ron Ben-Israel, but she is a far cry from Gordon Ramsay. No egos, no shouting — only a radiant woman with a French braid, frequently covered in flour, who wants her employees to call her “Erin,” not “Chef.”
“I try to maintain an environment where we’re all friends,” Nobles says. “Because we’re all working toward the same goal.”
Many of Erin’s childhood memories growing up surrounded by her family in Bennettsville, South Carolina, began with flour and eggs. Her mother made all her birthday cakes from scratch and intricately decorated them by hand. Her grandfather is known for his craftsmanship of dozens of Christmas cookies each year. A childhood spent stirring cake batter and licking mixing bowls blossomed into a career as the owner of Columbia’s most popular bakery — an accomplishment that has left her family beaming with pride. This was emphasized as I sat with Nobles on a bench that her father built for the shop and watched as her mother watered plants in front of the bakery.
After she finished culinary school and moved from New York back to her home state, Nobles gained experience working in several bakeries in Charleston. It was while working in Charleston that she determined the kind of place she wanted to create — a small neighborhood bakery where she could become a part of her customers’ lives. This was in stark contrast to the very formal New York bakery she once worked in. As a USC alumna, Erin chose Columbia as the city to plant her roots. At just 26 years old, she made her dream a reality. Silver Spoon Bake Shop opened on Dec.7, 2013.
With the “Treat Yourself” mindset slowly replacing diet mentality, Silver Spoon is the go-to spot for Columbians who are overdue for an indulgence. These indulgences are ultra-satisfying in that every baked good from Silver Spoon is made from scratch daily with real, fresh ingredients that you can actually pronounce. Only the good stuff makes the cut, like butter, sugar, flour and eggs, ensuring that every bite is utter perfection. Nobles has quite literally dedicated her life to the quality of her product and it shows with every ooey-gooey cookie, buttery biscuit and flakey croissant.
The life of a bakery owner is far from a piece of cake, however, as the work can be exhausting. Nobles starts most mornings at 5 a.m. and spends the majority of her day standing on her feet. As her own boss, she has to endure all the responsibilities that come along with this freedom. She often finds it difficult to balance her owns needs with the success of the bakery, like finding time to eat something other than leftover baked goods or getting enough sleep once the shop finally closes for the night. When asked how she manages the early mornings, the 12-hour workdays and the constant pressure of precise measurements and perfection, Nobles answered without hesitation.
“Baked goods make people happy,” Nobles says. “What makes someone more happy than a cupcake or a slice of pie?”
At only 29 years old, Nobles has constructed one of Columbia’s most successful bakeries based on the mission of spreading joy. Although she is a classically trained chef with certifications in pastry arts and international bread baking, her genuinely humble and appreciative spirit leads her to consistently insist that she’d be nothing without her team and her family. Nobles truly sees herself as just a country girl from Bennettsville who decided to make a childhood passion her life’s work. It’s this aspect about Nobles, perhaps, that keeps her employees joyful at work and the people of Columbia walking through the front door of the charming bakery.