Rachel Caygill rolls out dough in her home bakery. Photo credit: Karina Otrokhova
One weekend morning in the Maxwell Park neighborhood of East Oakland, a line formed out of the open garage door of Rachel Caygill’s pale green house with a passion fruit tendril draped over the facade. In addition to the masked people waiting, cars drove by every few moments with people jumping out of the apartment to fetch boxes. This is the website of Green House Bakery, Caygill’s artisanal pastry shop that is run entirely from their home.
“I’ve always been a serial entrepreneur,” says Caygill of her store, whose pre-orders sold out almost instantly. She has been working on various endeavors since her early 20s. Green House Bakery is just the newest and perhaps most successful iteration.
Starting from a childhood in which she was a self-proclaimed “key child”, Caygill “started cooking very early out of necessity,” she said. From there she went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. “I chose cooking school because I didn’t want to go to college,” she laughed. “I was really scared of going to college.”
She cooked for a while, but ended up serving as a waitress at the legendary New York institution Gramercy Tavern. There she met Claudia Fleming, the restaurant’s esteemed pastry chef. This experience opened her eyes. “I didn’t even know pastries could be what she did.”
Caygill is dedicated to the sweet side of the menu. After Caygill worked as a pastry chef in various locations, including the popular Gjusta in Venice Beach, Caygill and her husband, a fellow chef, moved to the East Bay to be closer to the family.
They bought a house in East Oakland; They raised a family and eventually Caygill wanted to return to her entrepreneurial explorations. “After I had my third child, I was just ready to do something again,” she said. She applied for her cottage food permit, which allows home cooks to sell food to the public. The Green House Bakery was founded in 2018.
For her first casserole, she made “maybe 100 pastries, which felt how much back then,” and posted the results on Instagram and Nextdoor to spark interest. It worked. “People wiped me out in about 15 minutes,” she said. From then on it “somehow developed a life of its own”.
Until the pandemic, she had a steady business on her baking days. But during the initial lockdown, she wasn’t sure she would continue at first – did people even want food that was baked in a house, especially one with children? She stopped selling, but when one of the regulars asked for a box and then gathered enough orders to be worth Caygill’s time, she found that people were still interested.
After that, the demand for their pastries rose at full speed. Their pre-ordered pastry boxes started selling out within a day and then sold out within an hour. “It’s crazy now. Now my things are sold out in less than two minutes, ”said Caygill.
Caygill said of the reason for the popularity: “I think people were at home and people wanted to make themselves comfortable and baked goods are super comfortable.”
Caygill puts the finishing touches to a Green House Bakery Pie. Photo credit: Karina Otrokhova
One of the things that inspires them to move on is the intimacy that a bakery from home brings with it. “I really like things that are super quaint. I love the feeling of stumbling over something … almost like a secret. ”She also likes the feeling of community. “They don’t just buy Starbucks pastries; You are buying something that has been handcrafted on purpose, ”she said.
Her background in gastronomy helps her produce such large quantities on her own. “I know how to work smart. … I plan my menu based on what I can freeze unbaked, ”she said. Weekly preparation consists of making three to four doughs, which can be used to make a variety of different pastries, from Danish pastries to croissants to galettes.
“If I had to sum up my eating style … it’s nostalgia,” says Caygill. “I almost always try to recreate something that I remember from my childhood.”
She sells a pre-order box of five or six pastries that rotates each week, as well as walk-up items for those who aren’t lucky enough to grab a box and are ready to wait in line. The flavors of their baked goods change frequently, but there are always some hearty foods and a few cookies with flavors like “kitchen sink” and “peanut butter toffee”. The menu is rounded off with products such as donuts, brioches and cakes.
The fruit often shines through, mostly seasonal. A toasted strawberry twist with fig leaf and pistachios, dusted in a golden layer of bee pollen, had a perfectly flaked croissant crust, the batter was firm enough to stick under the juices. “I love seasonal pastries a lot more than ordinary pastries,” said Caygill.
The Green House’s pastry menu, which changes weekly, includes sweet and savory options. Photo credit: Karina Otrokhova
Among other things, she draws on the abundance of fruit trees in her neighborhood, publishes requests for fruit on social media and offers her pastries as a trade. Another highlight was an orange glazed cardamom bun, whose appeal lay in its carefully crafted simplicity. The floral notes of the cardamom harmonized well with the tart, jam-like filling and ensured balance. It’s an enhanced version of the orange-flavored Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that pop out of the can and create the nostalgia Caygill is aiming for.
Beginning her fourth baking season this fall, Caygill expanded her operation by moving it to her basement and adding a part-time worker. She had been looking for a store to expand her business but it was proving difficult to find something that met her specific needs so that idea stopped. Ultimately, however, she doesn’t mind leaving her business at home for the time being, because “we love the feeling of being part of the community”.
The Green House Bakery is first come, first serve bakery twice a month and pastry boxes can be pre-ordered on one Thursday of the month. To order a box, visit the bakery’s website. To learn more about the next bake, visit Green House Bakery on Instagram.
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