Philadelphia has a long, storied, and indiscriminate love of carbs. We have deep history with candy, ice cream, chocolate, cake, and cookies. Then there’s the celebrated savory side of things. What started with soft pretzels and sesame-seeded hoagie rolls has bubbled up: We now have a nationally recognized pizza scene, a bagel boom, and an abundance of high-quality bread bakers, too.
Is the market saturated? Don’t count on it. The pandemic has shed a new light on — and given rise to — local bakeries without brick-and-mortar locations. Hop on Instagram and you’ll find plenty. Here are the stories behind six of them.
Claire Kopp McWilliams loves farmers markets “in a big-picture way,” she says. She loves that they bring a neighborhood together once a week while at the same time providing city residents a connection to their rural counterparts and supporting the smallest and leanest of businesses.
So in 2018, when Kopp McWilliams, head baker and miller at Vetri Cucina, was offered a spot at the Fairmount farmers market, she jumped at it — even though her bakery didn’t exist yet.
“I got permission to reduce my schedule at Vetri, Marc gave his blessing, and I did my first farmers market season while still working ‘normal-people’ full-time,” she jokes. (Kopp McWilliams coauthored a book, Mastering Bread, with her old boss this October.)
Thus was born Ursa Bakery, a sourdough-driven affair that has become her full-time gig since she secured a second weekly spot, at the East Falls farmers market. Kopp McWilliams doesn’t use any white flour. She sources Pennsylvania grains — hard red wheat, whole spelt, whole rye — and mills them fresh to make her breads, which can be preordered online up until the morning of the respective market.
She initially baked out of Mighty Bread Co. in South Philly, where she’s friendly with owner Chris DiPiazza, but moved production closer to home when Pete Merzbacher opened his new Germantown bakery. The proximity of Merzbacher’s has been a boon.
“I’ll finish up at like 9 p.m. and I need to be back at like 2 a.m., so cutting out the 20- to 40-minute commute means everything,” Kopp McWilliams says.
Though she has no plans or wishes for a retail-facing storefront, she would like to find Ursa a permanent production home of its own — for her and her new part-time employee, brought on this summer thanks to bustling business at the market.
“I cannot make enough baguettes or fougasse,” she says. “Business has boomed this year, and I hope that someone will stick around when the world isn’t so dangerous.”
Mardhory Cepeda’s Brazilian bakery, Kouklet (pronounced cook-lei), has traveled quite a bit since she launched it in 2012 after finishing culinary school in Brazil. She spent a year and a half vending her wares in her home country before moving to New York to study English and work in restaurants. She rebooted Kouklet there in 2017, selling Kouklet’s specialty — the bolo de rolo, an impossibly thin cake roll from northeastern Brazil — at markets in North Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn.
But Cepeda’s husband, a St. Joseph’s University graduate, lured her to Philadelphia in late 2019. " I started researching about the food industry here, and I actually really fell in love,” she says.
Kouklet made its Philly debut in 2020, a year that’s been marked by renewed focus for Cepeda. “I was more invested,” she says. “It was a lot about Philly, too, because I felt a lot of support here from other business in the community.”
Cepeda rents out space in the Bridesburg Commissary, sells at Manayunk’s Pretzel Park farmers market, and pops up with some frequency at Herman’s Coffee in Pennsport. She ships Kouklet’s cake rolls nationwide — often to the West Coast and once to Hawaii — and delivers them locally. The fresh-baked cakes last for seven days at room temperature, two weeks in the fridge, and two months frozen.
Making the cake rolls requires precision. Cepeda has to measure the millimeters-thick layers and fine-tune the temperature to keep the cakes moist enough for rolling. “It was difficult in the beginning for sure to get the layers even. But with time and practice, it just got easier and easier,” she says.
The traditional bolo de rolo, which she makes, features guava filling and is paired with sharp cheese. She plays with the other flavors: There’s a passionfruit roll, a vegan carrot cake and chocolate roll, a double chocolate roll with a fudgy brigadeiro filling (another Brazilian treat), and seasonal takes, too. This month’s is gingerbread cake with a dulce de leche filling.
Cepeda also offers other Brazilian baked goods locally, for purchase via a weekly email list or at her pop-ups. Look for her crusty empadinha, pão de queijo (a chewy Brazilian cheese bread), sonhos (cream-filled doughnuts), and her homemade sourdough bread. Someday she’d like to have a cafe to showcase all of her cooking.
“That’s the dream,” she says.
High Fidelity Bakery
Brady Hatin has been vegan “since last century,” as he puts it. But the longtime Whole Foods Market bakery team leader became an expert in another dietary restriction when his daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago. “We went through a huge transition in her home here and in her home at her mom’s house to figure out what are the best products that are good for her.”
That dual familiarity came to the forefront when Hatin hung up his Whole Foods apron this May, after 16 years with the company, and asked himself, “What next?”
“A lightbulb went off,” he says. “I recalled the many years of running the business and meeting with vendors and bakers and suppliers. Everyone out there coming to offer the product was, ‘We bake these vegan products,’ or ‘We make these gluten-free products.’ But not many took the leap to do both.”
That’s exactly what Hatin has done with High Fidelity Baking, his South Philadelphia-based business which launched in June. His sweet and savory lineup has attracted customers all over Philadelphia and as far as Jersey. High Fidelity’s doughnuts (maple pumpkin, apple cider, cranberry-orange) and cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip, gingersnap, snickerdoodle) are available daily at Grindcore House in Pennsport.
Mastering the rigors of both gluten-free and vegan baking takes a lot of trial and error, Hatin says. His family and his neighbors are willing and frequent taste-testers. They’ve had opportunity to sample his frangipane tarts, tofu pot pies, and even a meat pie, a generously adapted favorite of his French-Canadian/Vermontese family.
“When I was telling my parents about doing this bakery, they were like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to make a meat pie.’ I just kept scratching my head, like, ‘How am I gonna make a pie that’s full of meat vegan and gluten-free?’ It just seemed impossible. But a couple of months ago I figured it out, I solved the riddle. And it’s phenomenal and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on that.”
Check for the weekly menu, posted each Saturday, at @highfidelitybakery on Instagram; order by DM, pay by Venmo, and pickup on Fridays in East Passyunk.
Camille Cogswell earned national recognition as executive pastry chef at Zahav and executive chef at K’Far, where she crafted a buttery, flaky, Israeli-inspired menu of borekas, rugelach, babka, and pistachio sticky buns. But the North Carolina native has a soft spot for the nostalgic treats, too. In particular, pies.
“The southern tradition of making pies is something I have always loved, and it’s one of my favorite things to make and eat,” says Cogswell, who recently announced she will be moving back home come March and launching a wood-fired bakery there.
But before she goes, you can buy Cogswell’s pies at Hey Sweetie, her biweekly pop-up at Kalaya Thai Market, between Claudio Specialty Foods and the Di Bruno’s bottle shop. She’s been making weekend appearances there since October, at the encouragement of Kalaya chef/owner Nok Suntaranon.
Every other week, she bakes three or four varieties of pie: always apple, plus a few other familiar favorites (pecan, banana cream, lemon meringue, chocolate cream with coffee, peanut butter chess have all made appearances). She posts the menu — accompanied by an adorable illustration from her mother, Margaret Cogswell — on Tuesdays and accepts preorders starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday (for Saturday pickup) and Thursdays (for Sunday). Cogswell only makes about 35 pies total, so be swift.
“They have been selling out ... sometimes it takes an hour, but sometimes, like this past weekend, Saturday sold out in five minutes.” she says. “And for Thanksgiving, I literally sold out both days in less than a minute.”
Look for Hey Sweetie’s menu and the link to order on Instagram: @camillecogswell.
Second Daughter Baking Co.
Delaware County natives and sisters Rhonda Saltzman and Mercedes Brooks have shared a casual baking side hustle for a few years now, selling artfully decorated cakes and gourmet cookies via Etsy. Saltzman is Culinary Institute of America grad who’s worked in Philadelphia restaurants as a line cook, a baker, and a pastry cook. Brooks is enrolled in courses for financing and accounting and also serves in a creative and taste-testing capacity.
But when they found themselves cooped up together during the pandemic, the sisters’ side hustle started gathering steam. “We decided to take the next step into doing it seriously,” Saltzman says.
This fall, they rebranded and launched a website for Second Daughter Baking Co., whose menu ranges from everything-spice focaccia to fudge brownies to layer cakes decorated with fresh flowers. By Thanksgiving, their holiday menu sold out.
Some of Second Daughter’s goods have been refined over time; others, like the sweet potato tart and giant spice roll, are new — meticulously developed and tested for consistency until just right. “Rhonda really took her time and created each recipe,” Brooks says.
Recently, the sisters signed a lease for a commercial kitchen space in the Bok Building. They’ll be moving in in the new year. Until then, you can order their goods for shipping nationwide, free local pickup in Chinatown, or $10 delivery within a 16-mile radius from Center City.
Davina Soondrum describes herself as a “sugared-up muppet.” She remembers a year of her childhood in which she watched Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory almost every day. “And it wasn’t because I wanted to be Willy Wonka. I wanted to be the man that owned the candy store,” says the former head confectioner of Shane Confectionery.
Soondrum lived out “a good portion of a dream” at that job, which she held for five years, but she recently returned to candy-making with her brand-new business, Hey Sugar! It’s an idea she’s been meditating on since she left Shane in 2013. “I was always working towards it,” she says.
When the pandemic hit, Soondrum, who had most recently been a pastry chef for the Main Line’s Peachtree Catering, started taking custom cake orders for Instagram followers (her handle: @misswonka). She whipped up cakes with Mickey Mouse, Air Jordans, and Peppa Pig themes. She also baked weekly cakes for Bloomsday Cafe, the Head House Square all-day cafe/bottle shop where her partner, Tim Kweeder, is the manager and sommelier.
As the pandemic progressed and she kept busy, Soondrum knew it was time for Hey Sugar! to become a reality. “I realized ... ‘This is it.’ If I don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen,” she says.
On Dec. 1, she launched a new Instagram account for the business. While she’ll still offer custom cakes under its banner, her chocolate bonbons just might steal the show. Swirled, speckled, and glossy, they come in flavors traditional and otherwise: dark chocolate ganache, gingerbread, bourbon-infused eggnog, peppermint stick, golden milk (cream with turmeric, ginger and cinnamon), dalgona coffee (whipped milk chocolate ganache infused with coffee), honey caramel, and pink and bubbly (sparkling pink wine-infused white chocolate).
Soondrum’s production will be limited for a few months as she gets a website together and amasses more shipping equipment. But she continues to dream up new creations in the meantime, including a Gritty-themed hot chocolate bomb. “I’m trying to figure out whether I gotta do marshmallow googly eyes on him or just pipe some crazy eyes,” she says. “I’m having a lot of fun with this.”