Since she created the food blog Broma Bakery in 2010, Sarah Fennel’s day-to-day has been one big balancing act.
When Broma launched, Fennel managed it while working a restaurant job and pursuing a college education. Now, the 32-year-old Belmont native develops recipes, films video content, teaches food photography courses, and handles a deluge of other tasks all day, every day.
While Fennel didn’t start her blog with the intention of making a living from it, she said food has long played a role in her life. In college, she worked five shifts a week as a hostess and waitress while studying anthropology at the University of Michigan. Fennel, who now lives in Dorchester, knew she needed a degree, but her passion was always food.
“I actually skipped my college graduation ceremony because that was the biggest weekend for tips at my restaurant,” she said, laughing. “I told everybody I was graduating, so it worked out.”
After finishing college in 2013, Fennel managed social media for an Ann Arbor restaurant group while continuing to develop Broma. A year later, she quit her job and gave herself two months to “monetize the blog.” If it didn’t work, she figured, she’d go back to food service.
The backup plan was unnecessary. Within months, she grew Broma’s social media following from a few hundred to several thousand, with the website generating enough ad revenue for Fennel to make it a full-time gig. Nearly a decade later, Broma Bakery has 1.1 million followers on TikTok and 835,000 on Instagram, with Fennel seeing it through every step of the way.
These days, Fennel runs Broma with a team of four employees and a management agency — help she’s incredibly grateful for, she said. Before she hired Broma’s chief operating officer Sofi Llanso in 2019, Fennel was juggling content creation, food photography courses, recipe building, blog posts, merchandise, and social media simultaneously.
“To be successful at it, you have to be in the trenches,” Fennel said. “Then you can hire it out.”
On the day we visit, Fennel and Llanso’s agenda includes developing recipes for chocolate gingerbread cookies and maple pecan crumble cookies, filming social media content — which requires making two recipes on-camera — and planning a merchandise drop.
The morning begins in the Southie-based space Broma leases: an all-white studio with high ceilings and large windows. Fennel designed the studio after Broma began leasing the space in 2020. Now, it serves double duty as the blog’s content creation and recipe-testing headquarters, and a studio-for-rent on the days that Broma staff aren’t there.
For a video, Fennel attaches her phone to a tripod, setting up an aerial shot of a fluffy dough that she rolls out and sprinkles with cinnamon sugar. She records each step of the process, pressing the record button with flour-covered fingers and gathering content for a video tutorial on her soon-to-release recipe for caramel pecan upside-down sticky buns.
“It’s a departure from the super curated and the professional,” Fennel says in between takes. “Ninety-five percent of the videos are iPhone videos.”
Authenticity is key for Broma Bakery, which pairs enticing recipes with an approachable, you-can-bake-it-too attitude. It’s this accessibility that keeps people coming back, Fennel said.
As the camera rolls, Fennel slices the sticky buns with dental floss — a trick of the trade that keeps the buns from smushing — and Llanso preps ingredients in clear glass bowls. This includes taking a sauce pan to a bag of peppermint candies, smashing them in preparation for Fennel’s peppermint bark Rice Krispie treat video.
Llanso slips out in search of more peppermint candies — she’s about a tablespoon short on the topping for the Rice Krispie recipe — and returns, breathless and triumphant, with a bag of mints and takeout salads for lunch. Fennel and Llanso eat while planning the rest of the afternoon between bites of toasted kale and tofu.
Despite their efforts to keep the dishes at bay and the space clear, the countertop is covered in flour and odds and ends. Long beams of sunlight stream in through the large windows, marking the near end of a workday confined to daylight hours. For the rest of the afternoon, Llanso and Fennel tie up loose ends: finishing videos, taste-testing recipes, and brainstorming.
Tomorrow, they’ll do it all again.
For Fennel, the last decade has been a whirlwind of growth, adjustment, and evolution. But one thing remains a constant: “People always want a sweet treat,” she said.