One of them learned to bake in her grandmother’s kitchen, another attended culinary school. Several are from Savannah, one is from Philadelphia, and a couple from Paris. Two brothers are carrying on a family business that opened in 1884, another pair has been at it for barely a year. Still, these five people—artists as much as they are bakers—have more in common than meets the eye. They wake up well before the rest of us would ever imagine. They pride themselves in simple, straightforward flavors. And they find incredible joy in what they do.
Auspicious Baking Co.
“The name Auspicious came to us during food research on the Gypsy culture. That’s how they described the feeling you get when preparing big family meals. I think it really fits us because Mark and I put so much of ourselves into the product we put out. With such little experience, we see everything with fresh eyes—we kind of take something and create what we think it should be. We like to say we add a youthful touch. Our biggest seller right now is our croissants. I’m from Philadelphia, so we do one like a cheese steak: shredded steak and cheddar cheese ‘wit’ caramelized onions—that’s how Philadelphians say it. And during Christmas, I wanted to make stollen. I’d never made it before and I learned that it’s different from region to region, so I just made it my own by using the basic aspects but then loaded it down with rum-soaked cranberries, figs, candied orange and our house pistachio paste. To make something that starts from flour and water, see it walk out the door and then be left with just an empty case at the end of the day—it’s so fulfilling.”
—Katie Bryant, Auspicious Baking Co.
“My great-grandparents opened Gottlieb’s in 1884. Then my grandparents took over, and then my dad. My brother, Michael, and I reopened the business last year. We’re in a different location but the memories are so strong. During summers as a kid, I would go to work with my dad almost every day. He would wake me up at five in the morning and we’d be at the bakery by six. I bagged baked goods and waited on customers, and when I was 13 or 14, I started decorating cakes—that’s when I realized how much I enjoyed the business. Now people will come in who haven’t had a sprinkle cookie in maybe 50 years. They get so excited. One time someone came in and said, ‘Your dad made our wedding cake—here’s a picture.’ She wanted us to recreate it for their anniversary. We have books filled with our family’s old recipes written on index cards. They’re like our bibles. The Chocolate Chewie is our most popular item—we follow the original recipe. We’ve trained our bakers to make them up to one point, and then Michael or I come in to add the secret ingredient. My dad always told me to keep the recipe under lock and key.”
—Laurence Gottlieb, Gottlieb’s Bakery
Back in the Day Bakery
“Growing up in Los Angeles, I always baked pies with my mom. That’s when we would really talk, when she’d share all her stories about her time in the South. When I was eight, I started spending summers at my grandmother’s house in Alabama. We’d bake together every day—mostly cakes and pies and biscuits. There are certain things that I make today that take me right back. Every time I make a lemon meringue pie, I feel my mom with me. And making biscuits always reminds me of my grandmother. Hers were soft and buttery and they would fall apart. Later on, I decided that I wanted my biscuits to be like a southern croissant, so I came up with this technique of layering in the butter—that’s what gives them all those flaky layers. There’s something very therapeutic about making biscuits. I can stick my hands in that bowl of dough and go from feeling completely stressed to completely calm. I also love to make cupcakes. I like the frosting to look very organic and homespun—I want to see that my hand has been there.”
—Cheryl Day, Back in the Day Bakery
“Yes, my last name is Baker. That usually gets a lot of laughs. People always ask us what the secret is behind our donuts. It’s very simple: They’re handmade from a scratch recipe that’s based on a bag of flour and sugar—we haven’t changed anything in 30 years. We start the donuts at midnight and keep making them until 9 or 10 in the morning, depending on how many orders we have. On St. Patrick’s Day, we had one order for 1,000 green donuts. We started a lot earlier that day. This is my first and only job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I like to say that I’m retired because, like they tell you, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. I love being here. I love handling the dough and I love working with everyone. When someone cares about you, things happen. And Savannah is that kind of town. The city is growing really fast right now, but people still care about people here.”
—JoElla Baker, Baker’s Pride
Le Café Gourmet
“Back in France when I was an engineering student, I always worked at bakeries. I would clean or do whatever they wanted, and then ask them to teach me to bake. When my wife and I decided to come to Savannah, I went to pastry and bread school in Paris, and then worked in more bakeries. I’d explain that I was opening a bakery in the United States and that I wanted to work for free to learn. Breads and pastries are so different here. In France, you can have six or seven preparations for one product. You’re making the dough, the chocolate filling, the fruit filling, you add the puree, your fresh fruit and your whipped cream. For croissants, you have three days of work. On the first day, you make the dough, on the second you do the layer of butter and on the third, you shape them. You can’t rush anything. It’s important to me to stay true to the French process, but we will play with the flavors. In France, a mille feuille is a mille feuille, an éclair is an éclair. Here, we can take more liberties—sometimes I will add Georgia peaches to a mille feuille. They wouldn’t like me to do that in France.”
—Alexandre Darbousset, Le Café Gourmet