— Local bake shop recreates a delicious piece of West Virginia history.
(Editor’s note: Since printing of this article in September, A Step in Time Bake Shop has now moved to the Ranson Civic Center, 432 W. 2nd Ave., Ranson, WV, in order to scale up on production. The pictures herein comprise the old shop—but moving forward, customers can still easily walk in and order or just visit the new location, just as before. It’s business as usual, just bigger and better.)
The Appalachian Mountains are the backbone of the Mountain State. At their heart is coal, and in the early 20th century, Italian immigrants arrived to work in the mines. These miners usually carried a simple lunch—some bread, a stick of pepperoni, and a jug of water. It couldn’t spoil, and could be held in the hand and eaten on the job.
Sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s (nobody seems to know), Giuseppe Argiro, an enterprising former miner, opened a bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia. Building on the traditional miner’s lunch, he baked the pepperoni into the bread, inventing the pepperoni roll. And, well, the rest is history.
Pepperoni rolls became popular snacks throughout most of the state (as-is or split and served with additions like chili, cheese, and peppers). They didn’t reach the Eastern Panhandle, no doubt because it lacked coal and Italian immigrants. Much of the Panhandle consisted of dairy farms and orchards until recent times.
Originally from Charleston, Terri Wilson moved to the Panhandle in 2008, joining her daughter and two grandchildren in Harpers Ferry, who’d moved there in 2000.
Wilson is a coal miner’s daughter, youngest of seven children, six of them girls. Their mother taught them to bake, including her homemade pepperoni rolls. Their father died in the mines.
“I would stand on a stool and watch my mom mixing up dough,” Wilson recalled. “She’d have me take a handful and she’d say, ‘Now look at it.’ She didn’t follow a recipe—just took a handful of this and a pinch of that. My mom’s home was always open to anyone who was hungry. Every Sunday afternoon, Mom made dinner and put it on the table with a white cloth over it. Whatever people came in, she would lift the cloth and invite them to sit and eat.”
Wilson loved baking and dreamed of having a bake shop to share her family traditions. And so she finally did, on Valentine’s Day 2017, opening A Step in Time Bake Shop within a tiny Victorian house tucked perfectly just off the street in Harpers Ferry.
She also desired to create a tribute to her parents and the welcoming atmosphere of home—and she did so with vintage décor and the tantalizing smells of baking. Accompanying the atmosphere, photos of her parents grace the shop’s walls, and her dad’s coal miner’s hat even sits on a shelf.
Word of ‘Mouth’
All of the baking is done daily by Wilson and her recently-hired assistant, Bastian. They bake cookies, cupcakes, a few cakes and pies (they do not do cake decorating), and, of course, pepperoni rolls. On weekends, they make rum rolls—once a tradition at the old Cliffside Inn in Harpers Ferry. Wilson uses the same recipe, which came from an old church cookbook.
As for the pepperoni rolls—at first, Wilson baked just a handful at a time, hoping to introduce them to the area. And soon enough, the word spread, quite literally by mouth. When locals who’d attended WVU and other schools in “pepperoni roll country” returned home, and transplants from coal country arrived, it wasn’t long before they discovered her tiny bakery.
“A lady and her son had flown in on a plane from Las Vegas,” she recalled. “She said she found my pepperoni rolls online and that she hadn’t had a pepperoni roll in thirty years, and that they must stop to get one. A gentleman from a coal town who now works at Antietam stopped in. He also said he hadn’t had a good pepperoni roll for years. He said he’d tried a few he’d found but didn’t like them and said, ‘I’ll try one of yours, and if I like it, I’ll be back.’ He came back.”
On a Roll
Wilson’s pepperoni rolls are made with her mother’s original recipe, trademarked “Mama Jo’s Pepperoni Rolls” and named for her mother, Jozetta. They’re made southern West Virginia style—i.e. slices of pepperoni (northern WV uses pepperoni sticks). Completing the deliciousness, she adds in mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
“When we first opened, most customers bought one pepperoni roll at a time, but they were soon buying several, so we offered a discount on six,” she acknowledged. Now, Wilson’s rapidly increasing customer base typically buys six, or even a dozen, at a time.
To that end, production had to increase to keep them coming fresh out of the oven when customers came in—it isn’t anything for the shop to turn out at least 100 per day. And that doesn’t include her expanding wholesale operations and even shipping. “I ship priority mail and they go out the day they were made, so they’re always fresh,” she assured.
Wilson’s rolls are starting to pop up in other local outlets as well. Perhaps you’ve tasted one. She’s also been approached to bake for fundraising events—a new avenue for the business, which, in a nutshell, is booming as the backside of just its second year approaches.
The excitement of success being what it is, Wilson is handling the shop’s growth with measure. “I want to grow this business, but I don’t want to lose the intimate family atmosphere and personal relationships we’ve built here.”
All things being equal, we’re betting she’s got nothing to worry about.
To find out more, visit the above links and find A Step in Time Bake Shop on Facebook. And truthfully, quit wasting time, and get over to the shop and find out for yourself. (Thank us later.)