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The Atwater's franchise, with locations all around the Baltimore area, has strong ties to UMBC. Photo by Katie Lee.

Atwater’s Catonsville: serving one dish at a time

On the corner of Mellor Avenue and Frederick Road, the smell of toasted bread and roasted red peppers linger as passersby walk in and out of Atwater’s Catonsville.

Atwater’s Catonsville, the fifth addition to the Atwater’s franchise, is a bakery shop that serves a variety of breakfast and lunch dishes in downtown Catonsville.

The original Atwater’s bakery started out as a small shop that sold leavened bread. Now, Atwater’s is a multimillion dollar operation that claims over 200 employees, five branches and several entrees.

Married couple Ned and Priscilla “La” Atwater originally founded Atwater’s in 1997 while Ned was apprenticing for a well-respected chef and studying business administration in university. His passion for cooking from scratch eventually led to the establishment of their first shop: Atwater’s Naturally Leavened Bread. It was located in Belvedere Square, a shopping mall in north Baltimore.

When they first started out, there were many obstacles to overcome. With a staff of only fifteen in their early stages, it was difficult managing their business. Her husband, La says, was the “front” of the operations, and was heavily involved in the food preparation.

Because her husband and their staff made the bread themselves, actually making the bread could take up to 12 hours alone.

Meanwhile, she was the “back” of the operations, in charge of the administrative duties that needed to be attended to. There, she quickly learned not “to get too excited” at the prospect of running a local bakery.

“The banks really want you to succeed…but I remember bouncing a bunch of checks before I really figured it out,” Atwater explained. Now she can say it was well worth it.

Atwater’s Catonsville is located in the couple’s hometown and houses more dishes than they could have ever thought imaginable, from grilled ham and cheddar biscuits, to enchiladas, pot pies and buttermilk pancakes. There are now six retail locations across the Baltimore area, including Falls Road, Canton, Hopkins and Kennelworth.

Despite their ever-expanding operation, the Atwaters are still fond of their Catonsville roots and have given back through their business in different ways.

Atwater recalls their project with Playworks a few years prior, where the workers offered free soup to customers who bought soup bowls for a local fundraiser.

Atwater, who is also the administrative assistant for both the Humanities Scholars and Linehan Artist Scholars Programs on campus, has also invested her efforts into giving back to UMBC.

“We tried having this community dinner with musicians from UMBC set to perform,” explained Atwater. For various reasons, however, the event did not go as anticipated, but Atwater and her husband are optimistic to collaborate with UMBC in the future.

“There’s even a bulletin board for UMBC in the back room,” Atwater remarked. With their future with UMBC still underway, Atwater and her husband are currently working on other field projects.

As of 2016, the company has expanded to include its very first urban farm, which is also in partnership with The Samaritan Women, an organization that rehabilitates victims of human trafficking. With their own farm to grow locally-sourced fruits and vegetables, the Atwaters hope to cultivate the resources and enjoyment “in building a more sustainable community.”

According to their website, “The urban farm represents our mission to provide fresh, wholesome food to Baltimore and serves how interconnected we are to the natural world… we invite you to share our bounty and experience the true meaning of farm to table.”