Madie Thomas (18) is the co-owner and head pastry chef of the Balboa Island Baking Company, a tourist hotspot on the small island off of Newport Beach, serving a loyal client base and regulars since the late 1970s.
After assisting children and families as she pursued her graduate degree in social work, Thomas became the co-owner of the bakery along with her parents in summer 2022. Although she didn’t expect to shift from the social work sphere to owning a small baking business, Thomas sees baking as an opportunity to further her ministry of warmth and connectedness.
“My story is very strange but was ultimately just marked by the Lord taking me along this journey and working things out,” Thomas said. “Now, I want to create hospitality through baking.”
“My story is very strange but was ultimately just marked by the Lord taking me along this journey and working things out. Now, I want to create hospitality through baking.”
Thomas said her love of baking probably emerged from her family’s commitment to hospitality. Growing up, her parents provided foster care for five children and consistently set an example of generosity and acceptance. Baking was a great way for Thomas to participate in her family’s welcoming atmosphere.
“Baking has always been my main passion since I was little,” Thomas said. “I would come home from school, age six, seven, eight, turn on Food Network, and watch it for hours and get so inspired.”
When it came time for Thomas’ post-secondary education, however, baking remained just that: a passion. She didn’t consider culinary or trade school viable at the time, but she still wanted to find a career that would bring comfort and joy to those in need. So she decided to pursue a degree in social work at PLNU and paid special interest to foster care, aiding people with disabilities, and supervised visitations for those who no longer had custody of their children.
“I got to experiment with a lot of different realms of social work, and I loved all of it,” Thomas said. “Although it was really challenging work, I loved getting to create relationships with people who are overlooked.”
Thomas said PLNU’s biggest impact was the relationships she was able to form with students and professors. While she praised the networking and professional connections she was able to find at PLNU, she was further influenced by the encouragement of professors and mentors.
“Point Loma gave me bigger dreams than I had before on how I can reach people and how many opportunities are out there to do that,” she said. “I think I had a very small vision for my life, and after Point Loma, I felt very empowered and equipped to work in different settings.”
“I think I had a very small vision for my life, and after Point Loma, I felt very empowered and equipped to work in different settings.”
Thomas decided to continue her social work education with a master’s in clinical counseling. At the time, she was working with adults with disabilities and felt like grad school would help her do more for that population. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put her educational journey on hold.
Although Thomas experienced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s grateful for the ways in which it helped her reevaluate what was most important to her. After stepping back from social work, Thomas felt it was time to pursue her dream of owning her own bakery that she’d had for over 20 years.
“I do really see the Lord’s hand in my life during the pandemic,” Thomas said. “Had I not had such a great interruption, I never would have gone down this path.”
In 2021, some friends of Thomas’ from PLNU informed her that the Balboa Island Baking Co. was for sale. Since Thomas’ father had recently retired, she sent him a photo and joked that he should think about taking on ownership of the restaurant as a retirement project. A few weeks later, Thomas’ father reached out again and explained that not only had he been in contact with the departing owners of Balboa Island Baking Co. but that they also thought Thomas and her parents would be a good fit as new owners of the bakery.
“My parents never would’ve thought they’d be owning a bakery with me,” Thomas said. “My dad said if I was in, he would do it with me.”
She attended pastry school and officially became the co-owner and head baker of the Balboa Island Baking Co. in June 2022. Thomas said she was impressed right away by how beloved the bakery was by the Orange County community. Not only was the bakery busy during summer months, holidays, and weekends, but it also had many loyal customers — some of whom visit the shop everyday for breakfast.
“It’s been so fun to see how much hype is around this bakery since it’s been a staple there for so long,” Thomas said.
In addition to serving breakfast favorites like muffins, scones, and coffee cake, the Balboa Island Baking Co. is best known for its cinnamon rolls. The oversized cinnamon rolls have been passed down since the first owners and remain their best-selling treat.
“These cinnamon rolls are massive, like the size of your head,” Thomas said. “People come from everywhere to eat them.”
Thomas explained it’s such a small shop that it’s an open kitchen. Customers can see Thomas baking while taking orders or see her handle dough at her workbench at the front window. They often take pictures or videos of the processes that go into making each pastry.
“People can line up and watch us make huge batches of cinnamon rolls,” Thomas said. “When people come in to order, they’re basically standing in our kitchen.”
Thomas credits her family’s ownership of the bakery to the work of God. From the employees to the pastries to the bakery space itself, Thomas hopes that people get a sense of joy from each visit.
“I do feel like this bakery is the Lord’s,” she said. “I genuinely want people to walk in and sense that there’s something different in the atmosphere.”
“I do feel like this bakery is the Lord’s. I genuinely want people to walk in and sense that there’s something different in the atmosphere.”
Thomas also hopes the bakery can be a means through which she and her family can continue to support the community. She’s had the opportunity to teach baking at the Orange County Rescue Mission, has taught a baking class at a local middle school, and has volunteered the baking company’s cooking supplies for fundraising events and church ministries. In the future, she hopes to teach more classes, especially among kids and families with disabilities.
“As the bakery expands and grows, I hope that would be at the crux of what the bakery is,” Thomas said. “We’re not looking to get rich off of muffins — we want to be a place that’s helping the community.”