Holiday Cookies from Cowbell Kitchen

A Beloved Bakery Opens in Leesburg

By Lani Furbank, photography by Yetta Reid

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After more than two decades working as a professional pastry chef, Cheryl Strasser decided it was time to retire and slow down a bit.

Instead of hitting the brakes, Strasser hit the gas. She bought a five- by eight-foot food trailer, parked it in front of the Lucketts Store and sold biscuit sandwiches, coffee and pastries. She called it Cowbell Kitchen.

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Two years into running her food truck, she signed up for a booth at a flea market in DC and discovered a new passion. “I love the markets,” she says. So, she began selling her pastries and breakfast sandwiches at FRESHFARM’s City Center market. The markets kept coming, one after another, and before she knew it she was trekking around four states and DC to pick up supplies from farms and bring her baked goods to customers.

Four years later, she and her business partner Kaeley “KK” Brady now own a retail bakery in Leesburg and operate stands at nine farmers markets across the region.

While her business was growing, Strasser built personal relationships with local farmers. “Because I was so small, no one would deliver to me. So, I had to go everywhere,” she recalls. “I had to drive to Trickling Springs and pick up my milk—next to semi-trucks—in my little red Mini Cooper. I got to know everyone … I even knew the cows.” This solidified Strasser’s commitment to buying local products. “I just connect with farmers, the outdoors. I love the animals. It’s just a blast.”

Strasser worked out of commercial kitchens in West Virginia, DC and Virginia before deciding it was time for a space of her own. She began looking for property and eventually settled on a building in downtown Leesburg, which she and Brady opened in October. The new HQ serves as a production kitchen, but also has a retail space where people can buy pastries, smoothie bowls, breakfast sandwiches, coffee and more.

Everything on their menu is made with locally sourced products, from fruits and vegetables to milk and bacon. “It makes a huge difference when you use farm butter and farm eggs. If you use really good ingredients, it shows. And it’s amazing,” Strasser says. She also gets to showcase food from her farmer and producer friends. “We just want to help everyone.”

Their vendor partners include Trickling Springs Creamery, South Mountain Creamery, Tudor Hall Farm, Quaker Valley Orchards, Lost Sock Roasters and Wicked Goat Coffee Roasters.

Cowbell Kitchen also serves as a resource for small food producers in the area. “There’s such a shortage of kitchens and that was always my vision: to be able to help other people, other small businesses.” She’s excited to offer an affordable space for those just starting out. “All the people that I meet are so full of passion for their work, and that’s great because it’s hard what we do,” she says.

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In addition to running the store and the farmers market stalls, Strasser and Brady also make wedding cakes and dessert displays for events. Strasser handles the baking and Brady runs the markets.

“We’re a great team. My strong point is production. I’m used to getting a lot of tasks finished in one day,” says Strasser, whose resume includes serving as a pastry chef for the restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You. Brady is great at logistics and orchestrates getting the goods from the kitchen to all nine markets.

In the future, Strasser dreams of turning their building into a local food hub, populating the now-vacant second story with a coffee bar and grocery store featuring local items, from flowers to kimchi. “It’s always a work in progress,” she says. “It’s never boring."

For this talented and spirited baker, retirement doesn’t seem to be on the menu.

Click here for recipes to Thumbprint Cookies, Cowbell Oreos, Grandma Bertha's Sugar Cookies and Soft Glazed Gingerbread cookies.