Today’s profile is going to be a little more personal than the rest. Have you met my friend, Megan Gordon, yet? If you haven’t, you should. This is a woman who makes things happen, who sets goals and jumps right into executing them without the hemming, hawing and over-thinking that others (like yours truly) are wont to do.
As the voice and hands behind the blog A Sweet Spoonful, it was hardly surprising when she announced plans to start her own venture. Marge Bakery is the latest addition to the Bay Area’s artisanal scene with its selection of classic American sweets meant to bring you back to a time “when desserts were simple…when people shared them together.”
Except that this is a bakery with a twist: it doesn’t have a storefront. Its goodies are currently sold at local Farmers’ Markets (in Marin and San Francisco) and, occasionally, at the SF Underground Market.
A high school English teacher in a previous life, baking has always been a part of Megan’s identity.
“I used to watch as my mother baked cookies, and had my very own Easy-Bake oven where I would make brownies with my friends and have little ‘bakesales’,” recounts Megan. “As a teacher I’d bake for my classes and find ways to tie it into our class discussions.”
Getting pink-slipped from her teaching job in 2009 gave her “a chance to reassess what I really wanted in life”, which, as it turned out, were her two loves: writing and baking. And blogging was the best platform to meld the two.
“You don’t always know where you’re going in life, but sometimes you just put one foot in front of the other and eventually, it leads you to where you want to be,” she reflected. “The longer I did it (blog), the more I realized I wanted to bake.”
Named after her 85-year-old maternal grandmother, the bakery offers granola, seasonal pies (sold in slices, 5-inch or 9-inch wholes), toaster tarts and cookies at the market. Brownies, scones, muffins and cupcakes are also available for delivery orders, while Heath Ceramics now carries Marge’s house granola at its store in San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
“I wanted a name that represented the classic American desserts that I loved but couldn’t find around. I wasn’t interested in complicated or ‘fussy’ treats like macarons. I was just looking for simple, and my Dad nailed it when he suggested I call my business after my grandma,” she shared.
About her bakery’s namesake, Megan says, “She’s the biggest sweet tooth in the family, the one who would sneak treats like Twinkies and Ho Ho’s to family picnics.”
Not only did she pass her sweet tooth to her granddaughter, it seems that they share a few personality traits too.
“She’s a big reader, very smart, very stubborn, knows what she wants and makes it happen,” said Megan. “And she loves wine like no one’s business.”
Marge Bakery began as visions of a community space, a little neighborhood hangout that people could pop in for a muffin on the way to work, or a pie on the way home. The oppressive overheads of running a retail space and a fully-equippedw kitchen put that idea to rest, for now at least, so the bakery is currently operated from a commercial kitchen on San Francisco’s East Bay.
“My grandma is super honored and excited to be named after my business, but also very confused about how I can have a baking business without a storefront,” says Megan. “I’m still figuring out how best to explain it to her!”
Most of her produce (usually fruit) is sourced from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market while local purveyor Pacific Gourmet supplies her dry ingredients – oats and nuts for the granola, Valhrona chocolate for pies and brownies.
“I’ve been featuring citrus all winter and spring, and I’m pretty excited for rhubarb, berries and stone fruit to make their appearance at the market,” she says.
This may reveal how much of a locavore dork I am, but there’s something pretty cool about giving produce from your backyard to a local baker/chef for them to work their magic and feed their community. Imagine the relationships that would be forged if we started to donate some of our backyard produce to our favorite restaurant, bakery or artisan. It got me thinking about how this could help generate real, local, food communities and bring people together. Just by sharing our produce.
Very much a one-woman operation, Marge Bakery has produced over 500 pies as of March 2011, each of them lovingly rolled and filled by hand.
“Nothing I do at Marge is quick or meant for mass production,” joked Megan as she patiently cut out the rectangles for Toaster Tarts with her trusty pink 3-by-5-inch notecard.
“Our pie dough is individually rolled out, and the cookies, because of their high chocolate content, require lots of chilling, then cutting, filling and packing before they’re ready for the market.”
“Everything is made by hand. Truly.”
So given the tediousness of it all, what keeps her going?
“I like making things with my hands and seeing how the ingredients transform into something else, something that makes people happy,” shared Megan.
“Baking is immensely gratifying compared with teaching, for one, you get to see the result of your effort straightaway. Also, creating with one’s hands is an increasingly uncommon way to work. By doing this with Marge, I like to think I’m preserving a tradition of sorts.”