It takes more than just talent to be a successful baker.
They work more than twelve hours a day, starting at 5 a.m. with dough preparations for croissants, pie, and whatever else your gluten-loving heart can dream up. Bakers are well-known for their hard work and passion. They are often hidden behind ovens and refrigerators, kneading and obsessing about new flavors. During this time of the year, they are fulfilling orders for Thanksgiving, with hardly a moment to emerge from behind their flour cloud.
In San Francisco, bakeries aren't just purveyors of tarts, viennoiserie, and all kind of breads—they are becoming cafe or restaurant hybrids serving full menus. In observing how the role and perception of bakers is changing, we wondered: Are bakers the new chefs?
Name: Gillian Shaw, baker and owner of Black Jet Baking Co
Bona Fides: She's a Worcester, Massachusetts native who moved to San Francisco 14 years ago to pursue baking. Her career started at Moose's in North Beach before she moved to the Liberty in Bernal Heights. "There, I learned quickly that I was a baker and not a pastry chef." Black Jet started as a wholesale baking company slinging cookies, bars and their unique take on pop tarts topped with brown sugar, strawberry or jalapeño cream cheese to coffee shops around the city. "We now have our shop open on Cortland Avenue a few blocks from where I learned how to make bread, croissants, pies and cakes."
Now Baking: Black Jet Bakery has been open on Cortland since March. "We are very excited about the croissants and danishes we are creating, which consist of many thin layers of dough separated by butter produced by repeated folding and rolling." Her current obsession is the All of It Snail, a spiral croissant dough filled with caramelized onion and topped with an everything-bagel mix. They are also in full Thanksgiving-pie mode.
Holiday Treat: "For Christmas, my sister and I will make an icebox bûche de noel which reminds us of our childhood in the kitchen all together. This year at the bakery we are going to make it with our dark chocolate sandwich cookies. I also love the gingersnaps which we make with leaf lard (the highest grade of lard). I can have one of those with a cup of coffee and be positively delighted. As far as pies, I love our dark chocolate pecan and our apple cranberry, which was a favorite at the Liberty Cafe."
Location: Black Jet Baking, 833 Cortland Ave. (Bernal Heights), blackjetbakingco.com
Name: Esa Yonn-Brown, baker and owner of Butter Love BakeShop
Bona Fides: The San Francisco native grew up in a house with parents who made everything from scratch. "My parents make everything from fresh pasta to bread. We ate only all-natural and organic food and my mom grocery shopped at cooperative health food stores using two huge wicker baskets." Yonn-Brown started working in restaurants when she was 15 doing prep and plating salads and desserts. She also worked for caterers. "My dream back then was to own a bed and breakfast with a small cafe attached. I started in savory and went to the hotel-and-restaurant program at city college after high school. I met my husband there."
At age 20 she started working in pastry. However, when she had a daughter (injured at birth in 2005), she was required to spend further time in the hospital, and was unable to go back to work as a full-time pastry chef. Instead, she worked part-time as a data processor. "I hated it. I only did it to put some savings away." Six months in, she began to make pie, and quickly gained a cult following through her community; and Butter Love Bakeshop was born. She ran her business as a delivery service for four years, renting space in communal kitchens. "It was hard. I took two years off to work for other people, write a business plan, and wait for the right opportunity." Finally, in 2015, a little bakery called Nibs which she had been eyeing for three years, was on the market, Two months later she was the proud owner.
Now Baking: Though Butter Love specializes in pie, Yonn-Brown's husband wanted to make donuts and croissants, which they tested until developing the perfect recipe. Their croissants are laminated by hand, which is the process of repeated folding and rolling to create thin layers of dough separated by butter. For their scones, they also decided to keep the recipe the previous bakery used. "It was popular in the neighborhood so we wanted to maintain the nostalgia." That's what they call their baking style—The New Nostalgia—old fashioned baked goods inspired by seasonal and local ingredients. Now, they even bake the bread for their sandwiches.
Holiday Treat: "Pie is essential for holidays, but I also love cookies, gingerbread, and fruit cake. We will be selling our aged rum-fortified fruit cake this year. We candy all the citrus for it and pack it with delicious dried fruits and spices. Now we are dousing it weekly with dark rum."
Location: Butter Love BakeShop, 3717 Balboa St. (Outer Richmond), butterlovebakeshop.com
Name: Julie Vandermeersch and Arnaud Goethals, owners of Vive La Tarte
Bona Fides/The Story: Originally from Belgium, the couple moved to San Francisco in 2011. In 2012, they started to bake croissants and tarts in a small shared kitchen in the Richmond, selling them to restaurants and hotels around the city. "Then the demand of the products increased and we rented a kitchen in a hotel downtown. The hotel had two kitchens and one was unused for a long time so we refurbished it." In the beginning, their focus was mainly on catering and started a Twitter account to allow people to place orders. Then, one day, someone in the marketing department at Twitter asked them to make breakfast and lunch for their employees. They are now the go-to caterers for the tech industry. "This work allowed us to open the retail location in SoMa."
Now Baking: They serve a variety of croissants and tarts but they've also added quiche, pizza, focaccia, cheesecake and a full lunch and brunch menu.
Holiday Treats: "We personally love Speculoos, that is also available at the bakery. It is a traditional Belgium cookie, that we love to have in the morning with our coffee. Some other holiday treats include pumpkin cheesecake, apple brandy taste, heritage pecan pies, hazelnut brittle doughnuts and tarts and eggnog peppermint croissants."
Location: Vive La Tarte, 1160 Howard St. (SoMa), vivelatarte.com
Name: Greg Mindel, baker and co-owner (with his wife Christine) of Neighbor Bakehouse
Bona fides: Greg's background is mixed with sweet and savory cuisine. "Savory dominates my earliest experiences in the industry," he says. At the age of 14, he worked at a small deli/grocery as a dishwasher and stock boy. "I then assisted the butcher and baker and eventually learned all catering and deli salads." He has since worked in many different cuisines such as French-Carribean, Italian and Japanese. "I eventually took interest in the pastry and baking."
Now Baking: Now, Neighbor is almost six years old. Its initial specialty was viennoiserie-like croissants. "We have been trying to expand what we do as I truly like making many different things. So we have been trying to broaden what we do even more." Small pastries and cakes are their newest additions, as well as breads and sandwiches.
Holiday Treats: "My mom and grandmother would make a fried dough made with white wine and then cover it with honey and powdered sugar called, Petua. That's my personal favorite. At the bakery we serve ginger pull-part, spicy cookies, apple hand pie and German coffee cake."
Location: Neighbor Bakehouse, 2343 Third St. (Dogpatch), neighborsf.com
Name: Armando Lacayo, owner of Arsicault Bakery
Bona Fides: A former mutual fund manager with a passion for pastry, Lacayo started to bake croissants at home, which he then brought to the office. "My first efforts at making a croissant were dismal. Nevertheless, I persevered. After many tries, I decided that I would bring some to the office to submit myself to my colleagues' reactions. They were pretty good." Then two friends gave him a book called How to Open a Financially Successful Bakery. "After reading it, my decision was made. I would never open a bakery." Of course, with time he changed his mind. "I had accumulated quite a number of data points. There wasn't a bakery in France I had passed without entering. So I know what a good croissant is and I was able to make a croissant that was very close to my ideal." After four years of home baking, he took the leap and purchased an existing bakery on Arguello Street that is now Arsicault.
Now Baking: Last year, the bakery was named by Bon Appétit magazine as the Best New Bakery. It specializes in French pastry. Their menu includes croissants, pain au chocolat, kouign aman, and quiche.
Holiday Treats: "My personal favorite holiday treat without any doubt is a hot chocolate which taste better with all the croissants and different kinds of pastries we sell at the bakery."
Location: Arsicault Bakery, 397 Arguello Blvd. (Inner Richmond), 415-750-9460