Baking in the Harbor

SAG HARBOR—It’s hard to believe that Mimi Yardley was ever an accountant. Standing behind the counter at Sag Harbor Baking Co., the bakery she co-owns with Margaret Wagner, she looks about as natural as an apple pie cooling on a farmhouse windowsill. She smiles broadly as I purchase my morning coffee and asks if she should save a jelly donut for my daughter, an after-school regular. Of course she should. When I asked Wagner, well before the bakery opened—back when she and Yardley were dabbling in cupcakes and cakes for parties—what type of store she envisioned, she said, “We want to be your morning scone, muffin, coffee or tea… and also your wedding cake.”

Now open for only a few months, it seems they’re well on their way to realizing that vision. The bakery sits near the end of Route 114 in Sag Harbor, a stretch of road that has taken a lead role in the Hampton’s food scene. Anchored by Provisions to the north and Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop, Wine and Gourmet to the south, the street also includes the wide craft-beer selection at Sag Harbor Beverage and recent additions of Tim’s Butcher, Juicy Naam and now the bakery. You can easily get everything you need for a very nice meal by taking a short stroll. One can only imagine that the staff of Persan’s Hardware, sandwiched between these stores, sometimes struggle with where to eat lunch.

The bakeshop is small, white and sunny. “We had to build the space out,” says Wagner. “It’s only 400 square feet, including the kitchen.” But while the store seems tiny, it’s full of heart and seems able to contain an infinite number of conversations. Yardley and Wagner are daughters of Sag Harbor, so it’s especially nice, amid concerned talk about how escalating rents are changing the nature of small business in town, to see this small shop taking hold.

Meanwhile, they’ve managed to use the space restriction to their advantage. The shop is orderly and efficient. This makes the experience of entering it quite comforting. Shelves contain small bags of their homemade granola, and local honey and jam. Jars of cookies and glass platters of whoopie pies or muffins sit on top of the counter. Early in the day, before they sell out, a high shelf is home to baguettes and boules. A neat glass display case greets you at the entrance, and behind it a chalkboard describes its contents.

But you won’t find many patrons staring up at the board, instead their eyes are glued to the case, scanning the items. This store is about quality not quantity; the case contains many goods but only a few of each. They’re focused on using the highest-quality ingredients they can find and transforming them into little treats you’ll come back for, not mass-producing sugar cookies. The menu changes with the seasons, and even more swiftly than that. “We want people to walk in and ask, ‘What do you have today?’” says Yardley.

Their daily menu also includes gluten-free brownies and macaroons. Other gluten-free items such as muffins, loaf cakes and cookies are rotated in at whim. The baking duties are shared, although with Margaret’s degree from the California Culinary Academy and background as an executive pastry chef, Yardley quips that Wagner is her “kitchen sensei.” And sometimes through the open door that leads to the kitchen, you’ll catch a glimpse of the sensei, a blonde blur making clattering sounds in a sweet-smelling kitchen.

Sag Harbor has flirted with a full-time bakery a few times in its past. In fact, when Yardley and Wagner were kindergarten friends together at Sag Harbor Elementary in the 1970s, there was the “Hampton Bakery” near the iconic movie theater in the center of town. “We’d pick up day-old scones there and feed them to the cows at Cilli’s field [on Glover Street], or to the ducks at Otter Pond,” says Yardley. Perhaps one day, when she’s old enough to go there on her own, my daughter will pick up some day-old scones from Yardley and bring them to feed the chickens at Sunset Beach Farm. But what am I thinking? The scones here are too good, they never even make it to sundown.

Christopher Gangemi writes and ruminates from his home in Sag Harbor.