On Columbia's Snowden River Parkway, Renata Alanovic is aiming to recreate a small taste of Europe - through slices of apple strudel, goat cheese quiches and other pastries, sweet and savory.
Alanovic is the owner of Renata's Tasty Bites, which opened at 9350 Snowden River Parkway at the beginning of August. The bakery has a ribbon cutting with County Executive Allan Kittleman on Sept. 11 and an official grand opening celebration on Sept. 12.
The brick-and-mortar establishment represents the next step for Alanovic's vision, after several years of selling baked goods at farmers' markets throughout the county.
Renata's Tasty Bites got its launch four years ago, after Alanovic was laid off from an office job. She had always loved baking, and decided to try selling her pastries.
"I started watching Food Network, getting into it," she recalled. "It seemed simple, but it wasn't."
What she needed, first of all, was a place to bake.
Alanovic rented kitchen space from the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in the Kings Contrivance Village Center, and started taking her wares to the East Columbia Farmers' Market, where she began to build a customer base. The next year, she opened a booth at the Miller Branch Library farmers' market in Ellicott City, and in 2014 she expanded to the Ellicott City Old Town Market, on Main Street.
Outside of market season, however, selling her pastries was more of a challenge.
She pondered opening an online shop, but then learned of a kiosk rented out by the Savage Mill, a shopping mall of art and specialty stores housed in a former cotton mill in Savage.
"We really fit in there, because our pastries are unique," Alanovic said.
Then, this summer, another opportunity presented itself: Linda's Bakery, on Snowden River Parkway, closed down, and the shop became available - complete with a spacious industrial kitchen.
Alanovic, who lives in Columbia, had often eyed the space on her walks through the neighborhood. As soon as she found out it was vacant, she called to take a tour, and soon was signing the lease.
"It was a perfect solution" for her expanding business, she said.
Alanovic's bakery hearkens back to her European roots.
She grew up helping her family run a bed and breakfast along the Adriatic Coast in the former Yugoslavia, now Croatia.
When the Yugoslav Wars broke out in the 1990s, she and her family - husband Dragan Alanovic and son Goran Alanovic - left to live in Germany. After five years there, they came to the United States on a visa sponsored by the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network, or FIRN, a Columbia-based nonprofit that supports immigrants and refugees.
Dragan soon got a job as a furniture maker in Columbia, and Renata found work at a restaurant. The couple was successful, soon saving up enough money to buy a house, but Alanovic still felt nostalgic for the traditions of home.
In Europe, she said, "life is more laid back than here. You always go out for bakeries - that's what I missed."
The walls inside Alanovic's new shop are painted a bright, cheerful pink and decorated with colorful images of her pastries. The pastry cases are filled with quiches, cakes, cookies and tarts, including her best seller, a savory tomato tart.
The other half of the shop is a seating area, which she hopes people will use to sit and eat with friends or read the morning paper.
Though her life has become even busier since she opened the store - Alanovic arrives at 3 a.m. to bake and doesn't leave until 8:30 or 9 at night - she's happy to finally have a place of her own.
"It's hard work," she said, "but even though I work so many hours, it feels really great to be here, to have my own space."