Savannah Morning News
Nov. 26, 2017
You know it has to be good if people are waiting in line in the rain on a damp Sunday morning 45 minutes before the place opens. If one of those people standing in line in the rain came all the way from Statesboro. If no one’s grumpy or peevish.
“That’s the beauty of it,” said one woman after going to her car and returning with an umbrella for someone she didn’t know. “We’re all out here talking to each other, strangers. Once – when it wasn’t raining – someone even went to his truck and brought out four beach chairs for us to sit in while we waited.”
You know it has to be good if the place is only open Tuesday and Sunday and they always sell out. If they have done no major advertising. If they’re still cheerful at the end of a day that started at 3 a.m. If the business is out of downtown, south of Victory Drive, a block or two north of DeRenne Avenue in a one-story nondescript building on Skidaway Ave. next to a barber shop called The Nappy Hutt.
Maybe it’s the name. The Auspicious Bakery. Auspicious as in “conducive to success, favorable.”
Maybe it’s youth.
Truth: Co-owner Mark Ekstrom, 27, was smiling at the beginning of the day and smiling at the end. He and his fiancée, co-owner, Kaytlin Bryant, 26, are doing what they love. They’re baking – the old-fashioned way. Their pastries, quiche, galettes, brownies, cookies, naturally leavened baked crackers (tomato basil and vadauvan curry, among others), croissants (sausage and gravy, bacon and egg, ham and cheese, and the No. 1 favorite croissant, smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers), cinnamon buns, monkey bread and blueberry scones and breads. They’re all hand-crafted, hand-laminated, all made on-site in the kitchen behind the bakery.
Since they’ve opened Kaytlin’s mother, Kelli Horger, moved down from Pennsylvania to help “and to get away from winter,” she said. It’s auspicious. She sweeps, runs back and forth from the kitchen to the front of the house, answers questions from the customers. She lives in a carriage house behind a house the couple rented on Skidaway, across from the bakery.
Mike’s grandmother lives there too. Another auspicious happening. “I felt it was my turn to take care of her,” he said. It was when they were going through her things getting ready to move her to Savannah that they found a box of recipes that belonged to his great-great grandmother. The recipe for brownies stood out. Grandma Schmidt’s brownie become a best seller. But tweaking the recipe took a little work.
“First of all we had to decipher the handwriting,” Katie said. “Then we had to tinker with the ingredients. After making it a few times we knew something was missing. Then we realized it was because she didn’t include any eggs. She was a good baker so we figured that omission was intentional. It was a secret she wanted to keep from the rest of us.”
The bakery’s success all happened a little faster than they expected, Mike said. But he was laughing. So that’s a good thing. And a far cry from when they first pulled into Savannah nearly five years ago. They were on a road trip from the Poconos in Pennsylvania, heading for St. Petersburg, Fla. where they had a contact in the food business and where they hoped to move. But Savannah came first. They camped out for a couple of days in a Richmond Hill KOA campground, got lost trying to find Tybee (“We ended up on the Riverwalk,” Mike said), and were charmed when a salesperson at Walmart told them to, “Have a blessed day.”
They got jobs at the Boar’s Head and Rum Runner’s, but renting an apartment was a stretch. They thought they had everything covered – first and last month – until they tried to get electricity and Georgia Power asked for a deposit. At this point both were determined not to ask their parents for money, “so we scrounged our car looking for change and came up with the $150.”
The name came to them from their experience hiking in England, where they would brush shoulders with the gypsy food culture. “They were wanderers,” Katie said. “They had no place to live. But anyplace they settled for however long they cooked auspicious meals. I thought that fit with what we’re trying to do, to create an attitude of good feeling and wholesomeness.”
While the shop is only open two days a week they spend the rest of the week feeding the starter and working the dough. They only sell bread on Tuesdays but they do wholesale it to Smith Brothers and at the Purrvana Café and Cat Lounge on Bull Street. Mike figures they spend at least 12 hours a day four days a week in the kitchen. “Wednesday is supposed to be our day off but we’re always there to do something. We’re passionate about what we’re doing so it doesn’t seem like work.”