Story and photos by Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
For some people, working in the kitchen is just another part of a busy, everyday routine — another item on the never-ending to-do list that comes with running a family; but for people like Beth Zagst, it’s so much more.
She found her calling six years ago when she realized that working in the kitchen was the common denominator among the most important aspects of her life — providing for her family, connecting with people and channeling her creativity.
Today, she owns and operates Ugga Mugga Bakery in downtown Blowing Rock. Her relentless work ethic and passion for baking have yielded quick success in the High Country, where she enjoys her life as a wife, a mother, an artist and a self-funded entrepreneur.
At Home in Carolina
Zagst first started baking from her home in a small town in backcountry New Hampshire, selling her first cakes at the local farmers’ market.
In addition to baking for friends and family, she stayed busy playing trumpet with a renowned horn band, which kept her out until 2-3 a.m. most weekend nights. The late night performances eventually took a toll, and she decided to stop touring with the band.
Worried she might feel incomplete without the creative outlet that music had always provided, Zagst soon found that baking and decorating cakes offered an even better avenue for her artistic vision.
“Long story short, baking cakes, doing the fondant work and getting creative filled that creative gap for me. It fulfilled the same drive that playing music did,” Zagst said. “I never thought of it that way or expected it to happen, but that’s what happened. If you’re a creative person you have to do something, you have to create something, you have to give, and so baking was just that.”
The trumpet remains an important hallmark of her story — in fact, you can find one hanging on the wall in her shop today or incorporated in her bakery’s logo.
Three years ago, Zagst and her husband, Brandon, decided to leave behind the cold New Hampshire winters and relocate with their two daughters, Zoey and Seger.
“I love the four seasons, but the climate up there is just ridiculous. It’s nine months of a strong, strong winter,” she said. “The winter we left it was -34 degrees. That’s just silly.”
The crew soon found themselves heading for the land of the long leaf pine, unknowingly jumping into the heart of a premier wedding and special events destination.
“We looked all over the South for what my husband does, and this just lined up for us,” Zagst said. “I had no idea it was going to be a wedding Mecca, or a place for my business to land amazingly, but that’s just how fate happens sometimes.”
Ugga Mugga in the High Country
She named her business in Blowing Rock after an important part of her childhood, paying homage to her older brother and sister, who live in Texas and Indiana, respectively.
“I’m born and raised Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That’s where the show Mister Rogers was filmed and that’s where he lived,” said Zagst. “On the show, Daniel Striped Tiger would say ‘Ugga Mugga, Lady Elaine,’ and then they’d rub their noses together, so ‘Ugga Mugga’ meant love.
“I’m the youngest of three in an extremely close family, so we would sit together and make a train and say ‘Ugga Mugga, Ugga Mugga’ all the time. Even in college I would say, ‘If I ever have a bakery, I’m going to name it Ugga Mugga Bakery,’ which is silly, because I never knew it was going to happen. It named itself 10 years before I even opened it, so I couldn’t change it, even if I wanted to.”
Two years after the move, Zagst was ready to add a retail storefront to her bakery and did so at 1107 Main Street in Blowing Rock.
Just a quick flight of stairs down from Main Street and its upstairs neighbor, TazMaRaz Boutique, Ugga Mugga is tucked quietly into the hub of the village’s popular shopping district.
The open space houses her fully-equipped commercial kitchen and a welcoming retail space, which always features a colorful environment, the chef’s favorite tunes in the air and an elaborate display of fresh-baked goodies from each week’s rotating menu.
“I can be the person who retails and services and styles the front, and I can also be baking and decorating cakes,” she said. “I love that people can watch me decorate, design, stack and make stuff. People love that and that’s really fun.”
It’s close enough to bring in some foot traffic, but secluded enough to allow Zagst time for wedding cakes and custom orders. It offers convenience for her customers, but lets her balance time between her family and her business.
“This space also allows me to be an entrepreneur, a mom and a wife,” she said. “I know it will grow, but I have to do it at my own pace. My kids come first.”
Ugga Mugga bakes fresh new products five days a week for Main Street shoppers and beautiful, delicious, perfectly constructed custom cakes and desserts for weddings and special events.
The more she works in the kitchen, the more Zagst learns about how she can grow in her profession and how she can make her products better for her clients.
“We do everything from scratch — everything — with high-end, expensive ingredients. On every single recipe for six years, I have scratched out, re-written, scratched out, re-written to enhance them,” she said. “Every single day I’m Pinterest-ing and watching to see what Ina did (Ina’s my favorite chef) or what other cooks do — reading and figuring out how to improve. I’m not gonna stop.
“I did so many wedding cakes last year, and I want them to be the minimum and modicum of what I can do on the next cake.”
Ambition and Drive
As a self-funded entrepreneur, Zagst takes pride in what she has accomplished, which is due to a relentless work ethic, unstoppable ambition and the support of her family.
“I started this bakery on my own with what is in my heart and what is in my head. It’s completely self-funded from the profits of the first thing I sold,” she said. “I didn’t take out a billion dollars in business loans. I went slow and had an extreme amount of patience, and now everything in here is mine.”
She believes that the support of her husband, also a self-starting entrepreneur, is an essential part of her success.
“My husband started his own business this year and he works full-time at the hospital. Do we overwork right now? Hell yeah, but we have a supreme work ethic,” she said. “Being with someone who appreciates the drive and the energy that I have is absolutely second to none, and my husband is all of that.
“He is extremely driven, as well, so he appreciates that in me. The kids, of course, are always helping and having fun with it.”
Zagst attributes much of her own energy and work ethic to the example her parents set for her.
“My dad worked two jobs his whole life so that his children could go to college and do what they wanted to do,” she said. “And the mom who was everyone’s mom — that was my mom. I get it from her.
“I had those kind of parents who stayed up until 2 a.m. sewing Girl Scouts badges; or remodeled one extra bathroom to pay for trumpet lessons and band trips; or the ones who had a million kids over every weekend.”
Wedding Cakes and More
Although she may have stumbled into the local wedding industry by chance, Zagst is right at home in this community of creative, hardworking professionals.
“I love doing interesting, different, fun cakes and creations,” she said. “When I have a bride who wants a pie dessert bar, a nontraditional design or even something very traditional, they know what they want and I get to create it. Then, on the wedding day, I get to see it come to fruition.
“It’s the conclusion of ‘here’s my love’ and ‘here’s what I made for you and your family to enjoy.’ I like to bake and to feed people, so it’s certainly the perfect job for my personality.”
Ugga Mugga is a member of the High South Event Professionals network — a community of like-minded industry pros who work together to promote the mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia as the premier special events destination in the Southeast.
Zagst is active in the association and enjoys the personal connections that the members make with one another.
“Those people are my coworkers. They may not be here every day, but they are here every day,” she said. “If a bride walks in here and I don’t talk to them about 10 different vendors, something is wrong. I had no idea when we moved up here that there was a group like this, but to have their support is huge.”
Meet the Zagst and other preferred local vendors at the High South Wedding Expo at the Boone Mall on Sunday, March 20.
Stop by Ugga Mugga
Right now, Zagst says she’s “booking like crazy” for the upcoming wedding season and looks forward to the new folks she’ll meet through her retail space this summer.
As an obvious “people person,” she enjoys meeting new folks, and will likely invite you to watch her work in the kitchen if you have time to stop by. Every new client is another new friend for the Zagst family, and her cheerful personality will keep you coming back to visit Ugga Mugga time and again (although the delectable desserts don’t hurt, either).
The bakery is located at 1107 Main Street Suite B in Blowing Rock, to the left and just downstairs from TazMaRaz. It’s open to the public during winter months from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Want to know more? Check out uggamuggabakery.com.
“I never shut up, so I’m always talking with everyone as they’re standing around and watching me work; or I’ll say, ‘This just came out of the oven, try this.’ I grew up in a ‘food is love’ family, so that’s always fun,” said Zagst. “It’s so nice because they’ll look at me and say, ‘Wow, this is what you’re meant to do, isn’t it, honey?’ They all say that to me, and I’m like, “you’re right, yeah.”