To judge from the dazed-with-delight customers who squeeze into the teeny-tiny Sag Harbor Baking Co. off Division Street, sweets are here to stay. Seductive scents take over as soon as the door is opened, the key is to give over to the moment, as the eye confirms what the nose promises—a select array of aromatic goodies. Gorgeous-looking cookies, breads, muffins, cupcakes, pastries, focaccias, croissants, lemon squares and more are attractively laid out on counters and shelves, and a blackboard of the day’s offerings promises even more.
Where to begin? “I’m not sure,” a man says, as he gingerly inches into the little room already crowded with two people. He says his son sent him to get a pretzel croissant, his wife wants a brioche and he’s thinking of a cupcake. “Maybe one of each,” he muses out loud. “Maybe two of each,” counters Mimi Yardley.
Yardley is one of Sag Harbor Baking Company’s two owners. A graduate of Pierson High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School, where she first met her future business partner, Margaret Brooks. After graduating from Manhattan College Yardley became a CPA and worked in the city for a while at Ernst & Young. Brooks studied economics at SUNY Albany and then Business at Cal State in L.A. before going to the California Culinary Academy in California and embarking on a 20-year career there as a pastry chef in bakeries and restaurants. She says that chefs have to be “quick and fast” but pastry chefs’ work is “scientific and methodical.”
Despite their earlier professional lives, the two friends always shared a passion for baking and for Sag Harbor, their beloved hometown. In retrospect, it seems natural that they would create a little shop together that would be the village’s only exclusive bakery, and that they would run it as a kind of extended family. Between them Brooks and Yardley have seven children.
I visited on a Sunday morning, “Bakery Day,” when the churches let out and parishioners make their way to another kind of heaven. Two eager children appeared outside, catching the eye of Michela, Margaret’s niece, who loves to help out during college breaks.
The women started out in wholesale, supplying local golf clubs, schools and catering companies and took their time wondering about how a local shop of bakery goods might go over. That was two years ago. The Little Shop That Could started attracting regulars from day one, who marveled that so much wonderful fare was created in so intimate a space (the 450 square feet includes front section, kitchen and storage area!). Yardley and Brooks make what bread they can and get daily deliveries from specialty bread shops in the city. Don’t look for pies unless you’ve reserved your favorite fresh-fruit yummy well in advance or you’re lurking outside at the break of day.
Who knows what will catch their fancy. One of their major pleasures is deciding each day what they will do. Brooks calls it their “R&D mode.” “How about those homemade devil dogs we just did?,” asks Yardley. Which prompts Brooks to note their ongoing romance with peanut butter. Are there favorites? “Standards” might be the better word, among them chocolate chip, black and white, oatmeal raisin and ginger molasses cookies, brownies, macaroons, donuts, granola, scones and a growing array of homemade vegan and gluten-free products (though the kitchen itself is not gluten free). Everything is made with real butter, no preservatives, no dietetic substitutes, though raisin purée, for example, can be used instead of more sugar in some recipes. Specialty cakes are front and center, for holidays and unique occasions. Yardley and Brooks recall a 100th birthday cake and another to celebrate a successful heart transplant. They are already receiving orders for June weddings. They pride themselves on delivering client-specific requests and they welcome challenges. These have included doing four wedding cakes in one day (from Montauk to Greenport) and accommodating a customer who wanted a joke cake, one that would look smashed, messy and feature misspellings. But oh, that taste!
The Sag Harbor Baking Co., 51 Division Street, Sag Harbor, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the off-season. 631-899-4900 The shop will be closed Feb. 11 through March 20.