The following story originally appeared on the W&M Alumni Magazine website. - Ed.
It’s 6:30 a.m. in Richmond, Virginia, and in Sub Rosa’s small corner storefront in the historic Church Hill neighborhood, something magical is happening. Evin Dogu ’02 is pulling the first batch of pastries for the day out of the big wood-fired oven. What was just lumps of dough minutes ago is now golden, fragrant, layered and crispy.
The cafe has the heavenly smell of sugar and bread and coffee. Dogu takes a deep breath. This is the calm before the storm — at 7, customers will begin pouring into the bakery for their breakfast. The few cafe tables will quickly fill with people enjoying a fig and manchego croissant or a slice of quiche with their morning latte. The peaceful bakery will become filled with voices talking and laughing, the sound of the espresso machine, the clink of cups and forks.
For now, Dogu turns back to the hot brick oven to put in the next round of pastries, followed by the first of many loaves of bread. Her day started at 4:30 a.m. and won’t end until late in the evening. She owns this business with her brother, Evrim, and they have 12 employees, but the siblings are a constant part of the day-to-day operations. It’s long hours, but it’s worth it.
“The energy coming from the customers is so motivating,” she says. “They are here because they want something tangible to eat, to drink, to take home. We’ve become a part of people’s lives.”
Sub Rosa makes five types of loaf breads (including light and whole rye, polenta and a rotating grain option) and two types of Pide flatbread (topped with either olive oil, sesame, and nigella seeds or rosemary and sea salt). Their sourdough breads are naturally leavened — risen with the naturally occurring yeasts in the air — and all their breads use organic and regional grains. Their pastries vary by the day and include all manner of sweet and savory treats.
Everything they make is baked in the 7.5-foot-deep, 8-foot-tall oven, which has two connected levels where fires are built each night. Then, in the morning, the ashes are raked out and the baking can begin. The temperature is different on each level and cools throughout the day, ready to bake different types of delicious foodstuffs. Each night, the doughs are mixed to rise to bake the next day.
Their baked goods are garnering national acclaim. Last year, Evin and Evrim were James Beard Award semifinalists and are nominated again this year. They are frequently listed as one of the reasons Richmond is a “foodie city.”
Their name, “Sub Rosa,” is a Latin phrase mean- ing “confidentiality.” It comes from the origins of the bakery, when word-of-mouth was everything. Around 2010, Evrim was using the brick oven in his father’s restaurant at night to bake bread, which he’d sell at Richmond’s Birdhouse Farmers Market. It was so popular he had a subscription list — only those who knew the secret of how to sign up for the bread could enjoy the bounty of this nighttime baking.
Dogu was an early subscriber.
“I loved the bread!” says Dogu. “I’d never had any bread like that. He started talking about how he wanted to open a storefront. Could we do this thing together?”
Hence, Sub Rosa was born.
Dogu and her brother grew up in Louisiana, in a Turkish household where savory pastries were always part of teatime and bread was part of every meal. They moved to Northern Virginia when Dogu was in high school, and her dad opened a chain of Mediterranean restaurants, where Dogu worked front-of-house.
Moving to Virginia meant a dream of Dogu’s could finally come true: attending William & Mary. When she was a kid in Louisiana, her class had taken a school field trip to Washington, D.C., and stopped in Williamsburg. Dogu fell in love with W&M.
“William & Mary was such a perfect fit. There’s many times in my life where I haven’t felt like it’s been the perfect fit — other jobs or places I’ve lived or friends I’ve had — but I felt that at William & Mary, and I feel that now, too,” Dogu says.
She applied early decision and became an education major, switching to psychology to take advantage of all the social science classes W&M had to offer.
During her junior year, she studied abroad for a semester in Rome — a place where she expanded her appreciation and palette for pastries and coffee.
“Evin has great love and appreciation of both food and people. At a time when most of us were content dining on pizza and ramen, Evin was relentless in her search for more delicious, nutritious and exciting fare,” says Amanda Abrell ’02.
After graduation, Dogu accepted a position as a New York City Teaching Fellow. After two years, she decided to take on a new adventure — Istanbul. There, she taught, visited her extended family, wrote restaurant reviews and took the occasional pastry class. But when she returned to Northern Virginia and ate her brother’s bread, somehow, owning a bakery together just felt like the right next step.
Dogu started interning at bakeries to learn more, Evrim found the storefront, and the rest is history.
“Everything all together shapes who you are and where you’re going to go. I always admired at William & Mary the people who always knew what they wanted to do, but I’ve never been like that,” she says. “There wasn’t any single moment that led me here — I’ve heard of other bakers who grew up baking with their mom when they were kids, and it wasn’t like that for me. I just ate such great food and had access to such great pastries — I feel really lucky.”
At William & Mary, Dogu made lifelong friends with her hallmates, classmates and professors.
“As a student at W&M, Evin embraced the ability to be part of and also play an active role in crafting a positive and supportive community. You could tell she valued making meaningful, personal connections. This, and of course her cherry pistachio croissants, have no doubt played a role in her success,” says Kathleen McCarthy ’02.
Now, Dogu is invested in her growing community of Church Hill. Dogu envisions Sub Rosa as more than just a bakery, but also a community gathering place. Sub Rosa has hosted musicians, fundraisers and authors. Other restaurateurs stop by to chat and buy their bread.
They’ve built up a base of loyal customers, too. A few months after they opened, a fire tore through their storefront, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage. A customer started a GoFundMe page for them, generating enough donations to reopen.
This sense of community has stood out to Gul Ozyegin, the Margaret L. Hamilton Professor of Sociology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, one of Dogu’s professors at William & Mary with whom she’s stayed in touch.
“I am a great admirer of Evin and her kind, com- passionate personality. She exemplifies one of the best that William & Mary has offered to global society,” says Ozyegin. “Besides being exciting, innovating and talented in multiple realms, Evin has a true passion for inclusive community building, for pushing boundaries, and for wanting to create spaces and opportunities that will have transformative power to change other peoples’ lives positively.”
The community spirit can also be seen in their breads. The Dogus buy from local businesses whenever possible, a commitment made back in Sub Rosa’s farmer’s market days when they got to know many local farmers. Evrim manages those connections and is working on expanding Sub Rosa to a wholesale location as well.
Dogu describes Evrim as the more easy-going sibling, coming up with the big ideas and working hard to make them happen without losing his sense of humor. Evrim describes Dogu as a perfectionist, providing balance to their team. As the general manager, she takes care of a lot of the day-to-day operations.
“The hardest part of working together is not being able to relax and just enjoy each other’s company,” he says. “The most positive part is that because you are working so hard together on a common vision, it doesn’t matter how differently you see the same issue, you have respect for each other.”
“It’s true,” admits Dogu. “Even sometimes when we’re hanging out outside the bakery, there’s a little bit of pressure, should we be talking about the business now? The only reason something’s not happening, within reason, is because you’re not putting in the energy or the time to make it happen.
“You just have so much potential in your hand when you’re the owner of a business. It’s up to you to use it.”