Keith Irwin bakes up success at Old World Breads

December 22, 2023

Keith Irwin started working in restaurants when he was 15 years old on Long Beach Island, N.J. After high school, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. His education included an internship at The Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia, before he moved to Colorado and started working for Vail Resorts. While there, he developed a passion for baking. Keith prefers baking to cooking because “it is more scientific, more structured and requires greater planning.” But, as Keith says, those factors also allow bakers to be more creative. 

In 2000, Keith and his wife Trish relocated to Delaware to be closer to family. Keith worked in various restaurants for several years, including opening Michele’s at Dover Downs. In 2014, he purchased Old World Breads. At that time, Old World Breads didn’t have a brick-and-mortar location; it was focused on selling at farmers markets. Keith decided to open a retail location, developed some wholesale accounts and increased presence at farmers markets. Keith had eight employees when he opened the doors. He put in many long hours to get the business up and running. “I can’t tell you how many 36-hour days I worked back then,” he said. 

Over the years, growth has been substantial but manageable thanks to a great team around him. When the bike path opened adjacent to his store in 2018, Keith developed a take-out lunch menu and added outdoor seating. He saw a 79% increase in just the retail side of his business over the next year.

COVID had a significant impact. Because of all the uncertainty, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, Keith closed the inside of the shop to customers for the protection of his employees; he implemented an online ordering system. In addition, he added plexiglass in front of all the bakery cases and upgraded to a contactless payment system. When people were allowed back in the store again, sales really took off. “People eat with their eyes,” he said. And there is much to look at inside the store. 

As it was for all food service businesses, employment post-COVID was extremely challenging. Keith managed to find people who had a passion for working in a bakery, and he is now up to 35 employees. Many of his staff are friends or family of other workers, so the business has a real sense of family for all who work there. In addition, Keith has tried to ensure that all his employees recognize that while they all share a love for baking and serving customers, there are many differences among the team, and everyone is accepted for who they are. The biggest challenge for his employees is finding affordable housing that isn’t a great distance from the store. As a result, many of his employees live in and around, and travel from the Georgetown area.

Keith believes it is important to support the local community, so he buys as many ingredients as possible from local farmers. Those ingredients include 200 dozen eggs, 550 pounds of butter, 500 pounds of sugar, and 5,000 pounds of flour each and every week! Because they bake their goods fresh every day, Keith has never been interested in the idea of day-old bake sales. Instead, they donate any leftovers to Casa San Francisco and other area food banks. 

The most rewarding aspect about the business to Keith is seeing the happiness in people who come to the store to buy their breads, pies and pastries. They try to create new options every week, both for their customers who look forward to the specials and their employees who gain satisfaction and much pride from creating new goodies to eat. 

In the future, Keith expects to always have some involvement with the business, but he sees his daughter Riley taking over more control of daily operations. With everyone’s focus on healthier eating these days, Old World Breads will continue to offer more vegan options and salads. He believes that finding the right people will continue to be Old World Breads’ major challenge. With many area restaurants becoming larger corporations, he knows that making sure salaries are competitive will be a must for the business. At the same time, everything in the store is made from scratch, which is very labor intensive and requires more people. Yet Keith recognizes that is what sets his business apart from many others. 

With baking being an art, Keith enjoys the look people have on their faces when they come into the store and see what is available. Even better, people get to not just take home the work of the artists behind the counter, they also get to eat what goes home with them. 


  • This column provides an opportunity for readers to connect with the personal side of business leaders in area communities. Many of our local business owners and CEOs are thought leaders in their community, and they can provide valuable insights and ideas on issues of common interest to all of us. Successful businesses are essential for a healthy and growing society, especially as people continue to move to this area looking for employment opportunities. This column will highlight leaders who are not only successful, but also making a difference in our communities.

    Jeffrey Fried has been an executive in the healthcare industry for over 40 years, including serving as the president/CEO of Beebe Medical Center for 24 years. After leaving Beebe Healthcare, Jeff started his own consulting and executive coaching company, and has coached executives in a variety of industries. In addition, Jeff has partnered with a company called Vistage, the oldest executive coaching company in the country, where he serves as a local chair on the Delmarva Peninsula and leads/supports a group of medium-sized business owners and CEOs. Jeff and his wife Sherry reside outside Lewes and between the two of them have three children and five grandchildren. Last but not least, they are the parents of two rescue dogs.

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