Women reclaim male dominated industry

The pastry counter at May’s Parlor exhibits a large assortment of homemade pastries. 

MJ Matthews|Marlin Chronicle

The fully female team at May’s Parlor provides customers with delicious food and Southern hospitality.

Located along the Virginia Beach oceanfront, May’s Parlor welcomes locals, tourists and bakery lovers alike. The coffee and cookie house’s southern-chic aesthetic meshes with the friendliness of the staff to create an atmosphere that makes customers feel right at home. 

Converted from a typical community house, the cafe has an outdoor patio as well as an indoor chimney-centered area to sit down and enjoy sweet treats. It still feels very homey, with family photos accenting classic black and white decor, floral-lemon walls keeping things whimsical and greenery interjecting outdoor conversation at every patio table. 

May’s serves coffee, tea and other specialty beverages. The parlor also offers a full breakfast menu—including quiche, chia pudding and yogurt parfaits—alongside a lunch menu with sandwiches, salads and a kids menu in the mix. With such a range of dishes, a couple vegan items included, there’s something for everyone.

Hannah, the front house manager, recommended the Turkey Bacon Pesto sandwich as her favorite lunch, and an almond croissant as her favorite, and possibly the parlor’s best, baked good. From the wide array of cookies, croissants, pies and other treats to choose from, it’s more than a little challenging to find a favorite. 

May’s Parlor is remarkable in many ways, one being that they are women-owned and operated. “We’re all women,” Hannah said. “I love it, honestly; it’s like the most friendly place where I’ve worked in a while.” This friendliness shines through staff interactions, as well as those with patrons—smiles and well wishes all around. 

All the bakers and baristas of this location are women. Racheal Browning, the head baker and owner, said for her personally, being a woman baker is more impactful to her than being a woman business owner, as it’s always assumed that she (the chef) is a man. 

“I don’t necessarily see too much of a difference being a woman business owner; however, being a woman chef or cook or like cook/baker is a little bit different,” Browning said. “It is a male dominated industry, like most are, you know, so most people are like ‘Oh tell the chef his recipes are good.’” Nonetheless, these comments and compliments are a testament to the delicious and brilliant work of Browning and her team. 

Browning opened May’s Parlor in 2017 and since then has opened two other locations: one in Norfolk and a bake shop in Virginia Beach. She is from the area originally, only moving away to study baking, pastry and business, before coming back here to open May’s. 



Illustration of May’s Parlor from their web page. 

May’s Parlor|Courtesy

The theme and name of her bakery is in homage to her late grandmother. “I named it after my grandmother, May. I developed the recipes based off of school recipes, recipes in the family and recipes from all over—and kind of just made it into what it is now,” Browning said. Though May herself was not a baker, she was a cook, hence her influence on the current recipes and fervor of the parlor. 

Also setting them apart from similar businesses is their passion, Browning said. “All of the employees that work for me have a passion for what they do. Whether it’s coffee, baking, pastries, savory cookies–everybody’s really passionate about what they do, and I think that shows in the quality of food and the menu items,” Browning said.

One of the most striking things about the cafe is the wallpaper, which just so happens to be the center for the shop’s aesthetic. “I wanted to give like, Southern vibes, and we found the wallpaper…it’s florally, but the floral is like, lemon tree based, so we went for that, and we love incorporating lemons into our baked goods and our dishes,” Browning said.

If the design theme wasn’t enough, Southern hospitality is most definitely embodied by this shop. Being in such an accessible location, May’s serves a wide demographic of people. Older ladies come in to have a pastry and chat, while families come for their own lunch breaks from the beach, followed by college students looking for their coffee fix and other busy-bee workers popping in for a grab-n-go or looking to take a breather. The staff at May’s is endlessly kind, enthusiastic and welcoming. 

Next time you’re by the beach, head over to May’s Parlor for something sweet or salivating, or even just a coffee. Their oceanfront location is 2708 Pacific Avenue, Virginia Beach, VA 23451.