Triad bakeries go to Hollywood for the holidays
By: Delaney Geraghty
It’s that time of year again. The weather’s getting colder, Thanksgiving is right around the corner and the Christmas decorations are starting to appear. For many, it’s the time of year for sitting around the fire watching specials such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or even a festive baking show. This year, a few Triad locals won’t just be watching such a baking show – they’ll be the stars.
Bakers from To Your Health Bakery, located in Winston-Salem, and Baked Downtown, located in Greensboro, will be making their way to the small screen this holiday season on Hallmark Drama and Netflix, respectively.
The head baker and founder of To Your Health Bakery, Anna Simeonides, will be featured in Hallmark Drama’s “Christmas Cookie Matchup,” a baking competition series. According to the show’s website, “Hallmark Drama’s first-ever baking competition will bring together America’s most talented home bakers alongside the cast of ‘When Calls the Heart’ to face off in a new cookie baking challenge.”
Based in Winston-Salem, To Your Health Bakery specializes in gluten-free, allergy-friendly and vegan baked goods. Their ingredients are all-natural with no preservatives or corn syrups, and they offer keto and paleo options, but orders can be customized and made with no restrictions as well.
“We always were a natural bakery, but we weren’t 100% gluten-free when we first started out,” Simeonides said.
Over time, the bakery evolved into the specialty shop it is today, following the wants of the customers.
“My little brother was born with a lot of allergies, and so we understood the importance of clean and healthy eating,” said Simeonides, who, by preparing food for her younger brother growing up, learned the complexities of cooking and baking for someone with extensive food allergies. “There was such a need for an allergy-friendly bakery.”
Simeonides, a Hallmark enthusiast, decided to apply for the baking competition after finding a casting call online.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a number one Hallmark fan, and I love baking,” she said, adding that some of her Facebook friends tagged her in a post advertising the show.
Simeonides explained how she had to submit a video of herself as part of the application process. In her video, she detailed her love for Christmas, her ugly sweater collection, her baking, her holiday traditions, her favorite Hallmark movies and even sang Christmas carols.
After getting a callback and securing a spot, Simeonides headed out to Los Angeles to film the show over a period of about eight days. The show is an elimination competition, with six bakers competing in two challenges each day for a grand prize of $25,000.
Two judges preside over the challenges, and at the end of each day, one baker is sent home. The show has five parts, and each week leading up to Christmas, another episode will premiere on the Hallmark Drama channel.
For Simeonides, the most challenging aspect of the competition was the mental exhaustion and the pressure she put on herself, yet competing was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
“I definitely am the kind of person to, like, psych myself out. But it was so amazing that really there was no drawback other than that,” she said. “I really feel like I soaked up every single moment of it.”
Simeonides said that only Hallmark could forge true friendships out of a baking competition.
“All of the competitors walked away absolutely loving each other,” she said, adding that everyone who worked on the show, from producers to directors, to makeup artists, had “that spirit of Hallmark in them.”
The first episode of “Christmas Cookie Matchup” premiered on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Drama. A new episode runs each following Wednesday night.
But To Your Health Bakery isn’t the only Triad sweet spot hitting the small screen. The Greensboro-based bakery, Baked Downtown, is set to be featured in an episode of “Sugar Rush Christmas,” a holiday edition of the Netflix original baking competition series that first premiered in 2018. According to the Netflix website, “Sugar Rush Christmas” is “everything you love about ‘Sugar Rush’ – with a holly jolly holiday twist – in this Christmas-themed spin on competitive baking.”
Baked Downtown began in owner Taylor Inman’s home kitchen under the name For Goodness Cake. As the business expanded, Inman, formerly a dental assistant, was able to quit her job and move the operation into a shop in downtown Greensboro, changing the name to Baked Downtown to avoid confusion with another bakery based in Charlotte.
Though the business has moved on up from Inman’s kitchen, the only employees are Inman herself and one other person, and they’ve tailored Baked Downtown to focus on unique creations. “We specialize in unusual cakes, like gravity-defying cakes, or cakes with waterfalls in them,” Inman said.
While vending at a farmer’s market one day, Inman received a call from Netflix inviting her to apply for a baking competition T.V. show.
“They found our Instagram and had never had any competitors from North Carolina,” she said, adding that the call led to an application process and a series of extensive video chat interviews.
“They were very nerve-wracking,” said Inman, recounting how the interviews took place over multiple rounds with various Netflix producers and personnel. “We ended up doing three different video chat interviews in our kitchen at home, and then once we got there, there was even more. We had tons of interviews.”
And this new adventure for Baked Downtown has been a long time coming. Inman said she first received a call in October 2018, was notified they’d been cast in December 2018, and filmed the show in February 2019. “The word is FINALLY out!!!” read Baked Downtown’s October 2019 Facebook post that first announced their participation in the series.
Inman selected Frances Kreilick, a friend from the dentist’s office, to compete on the show with her.
“When I was out of my home with For Goodness Cake, she came and helped me during the major holidays when I would get behind,” said Inman of Kreilick. “So she was my, my first choice.”
Filming began only a few hours after Inman and Kreilick arrived in Los Angeles. Inman said the taping of both the competition and the competitors’ on-screen interviews took place over the course of three days and added up to around 19 hours of shooting.
Like “Christmas Cookie Matchup,” “Sugar Rush Christmas” is also an elimination competition, but with a much faster turnaround. Four teams of two bakers face off in three different challenges, and a team is eliminated after each round. The last two teams remaining go head-to-head in the final round for a grand prize of $10,000.
As gleaned from the name, the defining characteristic of “Sugar Rush Christmas” is the extremely fast-paced nature of the competition. For the first and second rounds, the bakers had a combined total of only two hours – any leftover time they had in the first round, they could use in the second. They had only four hours for the final (and most daunting) challenge.
“It was absolute insanity,” Inman said of the competition. “The clock, I think it ticks away at three times its normal rate.”
Though she’s used to working under time constraints, the kitchen’s appliances, tools and set-up were completely different from the kitchen that she’s used to working in. This difference, coupled with the short bake times, was the most challenging aspect for Inman.
“Honestly, the worst part of the whole thing was just not knowing where anything was,” Inman said. “All your measuring cups are in different places, your ingredients are in a separate area and you shared a refrigerator and glass chiller with another competing team.”
Although the competition certainly induced some stress, Inman and her teammate bonded with the other competitors, bakers who hailed from Maryland, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.
“We met some absolutely incredible people, between the producers, the other bakers, the other competitors. We still keep in touch with all of the other competitors,” said Inman, adding that one of the bakers from Maryland is even coming to visit Greensboro soon.
“Watch it and don’t judge too hard,” Inman laughed. “Sugar Rush Christmas” is available to stream on Netflix beginning Nov. 29.