When I dropped by Baker & Cook, two chaps behind the counter were as cheerfully synched up as Fry and Laurie.
One steamed up coffee drinks while the other bagged muffins and relayed bagel orders to the kitchen. If they’d been up late the night before, neither showed any sign of wear and tear that morning. They were both earnest and industrious, while also emanating an organic air of contentment.
They’re part of a rare ecosystem where one aspect of the trickle-down theory actually works. If the people in charge give you some room to be yourself, happiness abounds. In a previous life, one of their bosses, Nick Demarast, worked for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. He says that his experience of Waters was that she didn’t micromanage. Nick explained, “Alice was really good at hiring people and allowing them to have creative space in the restaurant.” He and his wife Jen, the baking half of Baker & Cook, have adopted a similar approach at their first bakery.
In 2006, the Demarasts opened Harvest Moon Cafe on Sonoma’s town square and closed it—being both lucky and prescient—right before the pandemic hit. After running the restaurant for more than a decade, Jen decided that she wanted to have her own bakery. Nick was on board because he rarely spent time with their daughter.
“We’re really happy we made the switch,” Jen says. “Not only lifestyle-wise, like being able to be at home at night, but from a business standpoint. In our current situation, it was definitely a good move.”
The original concept included Nick making dinner two or three nights a week. But when everything came to a halt, Baker & Cook switched gears and repurposed half of the dining area, turning it into a grocery store. Jen explains that while there were shortages in stores they decided to offer whatever ingredients they had in house. “It could save people a trip to the grocery store.” Customers came in to pick up their CSA box and a baguette, and were good to go. She adds that customers appreciated the fact that Baker & Cook stayed open throughout the ups and downs these past few months. Since my visit, the menu has continued to expand to include items including quiche, a pomegranate tartlet and a few more sandwiches.
Jen says her style of baking doesn’t favor France over other countries, but she didn’t anticipate that croissants would be the core of their daily sales. “They’ve taken off with a life of their own,” she says. She now dedicates one day a week to making sure they have enough to last. They were making their own bread at Harvest Moon so Jen brought the starter with them. The baguettes, which she varies with different flavors, are selling as well as the croissants. “I feel like we can’t make enough of them,” she says. “We do a few things that are vegan, which have a definite following as well.”
Nick says that what he appreciates the most about Jen’s pastries and desserts is the way she cuts back on the amount of sugar. “I feel like a lot of places are just so heavy-handed with sugar,” he says. “We’re finding out that people are more receptive to having just enough sugar, whatever it is supposed to be.”
“My main thing is that I do everything from scratch,” Jen says. “I don’t buy anything pre-made.” She focuses on getting high-quality ingredients and not cutting corners. “I feel like that makes a difference in what the final product is.” She says that it doesn’t cross their minds to make things any other way.
Baker & Cook, open Wed–Sun 8am to 2pm, 18812 Hwy 12, Sonoma. 707.938.7329. Bakerandcooksonoma.com