SKANEATELES — There are new faces at the old bakery on Jordan Street in Skaneateles.
On the last Wednesday in July, Katie Brennan, 26, and Chris Grilli, 28, became owners of a doughnut machine, a tattered box brimming with beloved recipes and a more than 50-year-old bakery business that is a favorite lunch destination among residents and visitors.
“It was the weekend of the boat show, so we literally hit the ground sprinting,” Grilli said. “It was pretty nuts.”
Long before Brennan became the bakery’s co-owner, she spent time there as a child. A native of Moravia, Brennan said stopping for a treat at the bakery was a part of family trips through the county.
“My dad loved the bakery forever,” she said, emphasizing the word “forever.”
When Brennan was 15, she met her husband, Grilli, then 17 and from Walpole, Mass. Eleven years ago, the two met at a church retreat in Oswego County. They instantly “hit it off” and began a long distance relationship that lasted through different states, high schools and college careers at Wake Forest University and College of the Holy Cross. The couple married in Owasco in July last year.
On weekend visits during their courtship, the couple would steal away to Skaneateles on “escape-the-parents” dates to take in the monthlong Dicken’s Christmas festivities and warm up in the bakery.
“I have vivid memories,” Brennan said, “it was quaint and picturesque and like out of a fairy tale.”
In 2009, after graduating from Holy Cross and teaching for a year in Boston, Brennan returned to the Finger Lakes to help her family. Her father, John, had been fighting cancer for several years and he needed at-home care. While her mother continued to work, Brennan stayed with her dad during the last months of his life.
Every other week, as she drove with her father to chemotherapy appointments at Upstate Medical University, they would stop at the bakery for a coffee and doughnut.
“That’d be the last treat before he couldn’t really eat anything for a week,” Brennan said. “When we found out the bakery was for sale it meant a lot to us.”
On the heels of their wedding, the couple moved to Skaneateles. This meant Brennan was just a short road trip to her family’s Moravia 24-acre home and meant a reasonable commute to Syracuse where Grilli is a ninth- and 10th-grade religion teacher at Christian Brothers Academy.
Grilli said he misses the bakery when he’s working at school, but is happy his wife “holds down the fort.”
“One of the cool things we’re learning is how the bakery’s such a big part of the community,” Brennan said, of the Jordan Street business that opened in 1959.
The bakery was started by a young couple named Heid who only owned it for a year before Dana and Dorothy Coye purchased it in 1960. The Coyes operated the bakery, which served lunch at a counter, for 30 years before their son, Jim, took over and ran it for 16 more years. In 2006, Sam Mason, who’d always wanted to run a restaurant after years in the graphics business, bought it.
“Sam was so helpful during the transition,” Grilli said.
The new owners are committed to making everything from scratch, such as the sandwich bread — except for the rye bread, which they buy from a local baker, the pesto condiments, crispy onion garnishes, soups and, of course, the doughnuts that are made in full view right in the front window. They roast the beef for sandwiches and the beets for salads and make their own dressings.
“We definitely want to get more varied with baked goods,” Brennan said, her recipe for a carrot cake cupcake with maple frosting is now on the menu.
And, the couple plans to have a “from the garden” feature on the menu where a season’s bounty is highlighted in different dishes.
In the two months the young couple have owned the bakery, they’ve hired an assistant baker to relieve the current baker a bit from his six-day schedule. Brennan has not taken a day off from the bakery since becoming owner.
When the deal was complete and all hands shaken, Brennan and Grilli found they also owned a big old-fashioned box full of original recipes for snowflake rolls, breads, donuts and other taste treats.
“What I really love about it is they’re so obviously someone’s creation,” Brennan said of the recipes that are scribbled on scraps of paper, often without any measurements. “It’s really neat to have that piece of history.”
Dorothy Coye has not owned the bakery for more than 20 years, but said she still hears from residents who talk to her about their bakery favorites.
“In that box were recipes for everything that we made for 30 years,” Coye said. “The bakery was like the lake, it was always there for people.”
Brennan rises early every day to walk over to bakery from her village apartment. As she and Grilli try hard to remember the names of morning regulars, the couple say they’ve been encouraged and humbled by the warm welcome they’ve received from the Skaneateles community and is happy to provide them with hot coffee and a fresh breakfast.
“It had always been a pipe dream of mine (to have a small restaurant), and I always thought ‘how awesome would that be?’” Brennan said. “It’s hard work, but I really love the work, it’s been a blast for sure.”