Made by Mom Gift Guide: Raleigh's Michael's English Muffins serves up billowy puffs of buttery goodness
Posted December 2, 2020 9:00 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Annabelle Comisar took a circuitous root to get where she's at now — owner of Michael's English Muffins, a Raleigh business that serves up cloud-like English muffins from a north Raleigh shop and at farmers' markets, coffee shops and restaurants across the region.
Comisar's family has been deeply rooted in the restaurant industry for nearly a century. Her grandparents created an iconic restaurant in Cincinnati, the Maisonette, which was the longest, consecutive running five-star restaurant in the United States. Her father and his older brother would eventually take over the restaurant. And there have been other family restaurants as well — a total of seven during Comisar's lifetime. "It is no surprise," she tells me, "that I cut my teeth in the industry as a bus girl in one of our restaurants."
Comisar left the industry for a bit to work in fashion in New York before getting back into the business, working as a general manager at one restaurant for a small artisan bakery elsewhere and as a boutique wine distributor for Sour Grapes in Raleigh. As she got to know the local food scene and the people in it, she was drawn to the idea of launching her own food business and introducing the region to what a true English muffin is. "I used these relationships as a spring board to break in to the scene and have now successfully introduced a whole new region to this decadent and comforting food," she tells me.
My family is among them. We have fallen in love with Michael's English Muffins, which is named after Comisar's father, during the past many months. These are nothing like the English muffins you find at the grocery store. These are billowy puffs of buttery goodness that are delicious as a sandwich, with butter and jam or on their own. They also take some work to make, but Comisar is spurred on by her father's advice: "Attention to detail. Attention to detail. Attention to detail."
"The English muffins go through a 12 to 24-hour process where every gram that goes into the batch matters, including the long man hours they take to prepare," says Comisar, who lives in north Raleigh with her husband and young child. "It is a true labor of love and you can taste the difference."
Michael's English Muffins is part of Go Ask Mom's 2020 Made by Mom Gift Guide. Keep reading for more about Comisar and her business. And stay tuned for more Made by Mom Gift Guide features.
Go Ask Mom: Why did you start Michael's, and how has it grown?
Annabelle Comisar: The why would be probably for two different reasons. The first would be I saw an opportunity and the second would be a more personal and therapeutic one. I had just lost my dad in December 2014, and I was overwhelmed with the profound feeling of being lost.
Baking was soothing to me. It saved my life when I felt it was falling apart. Baking is precise. You follow a recipe. It was the first time since my dad died where there was instruction on what to do and how to do it. It gave me a sense of control over my life again because if you do the same thing over and over again you get the same results. It was comforting and, eventually, I felt safe again even when I didn’t have flour on my hands, in my hair or on my clothing.
Not to mention the actual motion of forming the muffins with your hands was also a form of therapy for me. It gave me a purpose again. Everyone grieves in their own way. Mine was through working and creating Michael’s English Muffins, named after my dad. As I started to heal, we started to create more flavors and grow. We now have six flavors and I’m currently working on the seventh.
We are always growing in many ways as a company and as a team. I have an amazing manager, Tammy, who also is a mother and runs the store and day-to-day production. Her work enables me to run the wholesale as well as grow the company. We started with one to two wholesale accounts and a farmers’ market here and there. Now we currently have around 30 wholesale accounts. We are regular vendors at five farmers markets, as well as our occasional participation in pop-up markets all around the Triangle. We wholesale in different areas of North Carolina, reaching as far as the Inn on Turner in Beaufort and we are always looking for new opportunities to grow.
GAM: Your English muffins are different from the ones most of us buy at the grocery store. They're almost doughnut like. How would you describe them?
AC: Well funny you say doughnut like. They are most easily described as a doughnut without sugar!
GAM: How has the pandemic reshaped your business?
AC: We started offering home delivery in early March and that saved us. We were able to come up with a way to do it in house so we could keep all of our employees on payroll and working. It was a huge help for us in April and May since we had to close our doors to the public. We only slowly started to reopen in late June. Home delivery has certainly begun to die down, but we still offer it, and we feel it gives people an opportunity shop local even if they cannot make it into our store or to a farmers' market.
We also saw a huge increase in companies we work with, specifically The Produce Box. Grocery delivery is huge and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon and will be critical to our ongoing success as well! Without our wholesale partners, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
GAM: What do you love about what you do?
AC: I love the people. I love the hum of a restaurant when you walk in and it’s busy. I’ve missed that a lot this year. I love being part of a community of awesome local restaurants. I love the feeling food gives people and how it brings people together. I love walking into my store and seeing regulars I haven’t seen in months. I also love seeing people in the store I’ve never met who have found us during this crazy year. I love coming home after a day of work and seeing my baby girl’s face light up. I love the strength it gives me as an entrepreneur, knowing I can show her what it means to be a mother and a business owner.
GAM: What are your hopes for the future of your business?
AC: We hope to be able to grow regionally throughout the whole state of North Carolina. That might mean getting another production facility or location somewhere in the next five years; our eyes are always on the horizon. I’ve also always been drawn to the mountains, so western North Carolina would be great or somewhere in between like Davidson where my husband is from. I would love a location in Flat Rock, N.C., or even as far east as Wilmington. My mother always told me, “the sky is the limit if you are willing to work hard for it,” and I have never felt otherwise.
Michael's English Muffins is found at 3611 Spring Forest Rd. Suite 114, at the corner of Spring Forest Road and Capital Boulevard, in Raleigh, along with farmers' markets and restaurants across the region.