On a recent weekend morning in the Maxwell Park neighborhood of East Oakland, Rachel Caygill’s pale green home, a passion fruit vine draped across the front, had a line forming from the open garage door . In addition to the masked people who were waiting, cars passed a few moments with people who jumped to retrieve boxes in the residence. This is the site of Green House Bakery, Caygill’s artisan baking business, run entirely from home.
âI’ve always been a serial entrepreneur,â Caygill said of her business, whose pre-orders sell out almost immediately. Since her early twenties, she has tinkered with different businesses. Green House Bakery is just the latest iteration, and perhaps the most successful.
From a childhood where she called herself a “turnkey kid,” Caygill “started cooking very early out of necessity,” she said. From there she went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. âI decided to go to culinary school because I didn’t want to go to college,â she said with a laugh. “I was really scared that I would have to study.”
She cooked for a while, but ended up becoming a waitress at New York’s iconic institution, the Gramercy Tavern. There she met Claudia Fleming, the restaurant’s esteemed pastry chef. This experience opened his eyes. “I didn’t even know pastries could be what she made.”
Caygill has committed to the sweet side of the menu. After working at various locations as a pastry chef, including a stint at the highly regarded Gjusta in Venice Beach, Caygill and her husband, a fellow chef, moved to East Bay to be closer to their family.
They bought a house in East Oakland; they started a family and Caygill eventually wanted to return to his entrepreneurial explorations. âAfter I had my third child, I was just ready to get back to doing something,â she said. She applied for her Cabin Cooking License, which allows home cooks to sell food to the public. In 2018, Green House Bakery was born.
For her first pastry, she made “maybe 100 pastries, which was a lot back then” and posted the results on Instagram and Nextdoor to generate interest. It worked. âPeople wiped me out in about 15 minutes,â she said. From there he “kind of took on a life of his own.”
Until the pandemic, she had a stable business in her baking days. But during the first lockdown, she wasn’t sure if she would continue – did people even want cooked food in a house, especially a house full of children? She halted sales, but when a regular asked for a box, then gathered enough orders to make Caygill worth it, she realized people were still interested.
After that, the demand for his pastries peaked. His pre-order boxes of pastry started selling in a day, then an hour. âNow this is crazy. Now my stuff sells in under two minutes, âCaygill said.
As to why the popularity spike, Caygill said, “I think people were home and people wanted to be comfortable and the baked goods were super comfortable.” She suspects that people also wanted to patronize small businesses more than before.
One of the things that inspires her to continue is the privacy inherent in running a bakery away from home. âI’m very into things that are, like, super quaint. I love the feeling of stumbling upon somethingâ¦ almost like a secret. She also likes the sense of community. âYou don’t just buy a pastry at Starbucks; you are buying something that was handmade with intention, âshe said.
Her experience in catering helps her produce such large quantities on her own. âI know how to work smart. â¦ I plan my menu around what I can freeze without cooking, âshe said. Weekly preparation involves making three to four doughs that can be used to make a variety of different pastries, from danishes to croissants to patties.
âIf I had to sum up my eating styleâ¦ it’s nostalgia,â Caygill says. “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 rotate weekly as well as drop-in items only for those who aren’t lucky enough to grab a box and are ready to queue. The flavors of his baked goods change frequently, but there are always a few savory items and a few cookies with flavors like âkitchen sinkâ and âpeanut butter caramelâ. The menu is complemented with items like donuts, buns and cakes.
Often the fruit, usually in season, shines through. A twist of roasted strawberries with a fig leaf and pistachio sprinkled with a golden layer of bee pollen had a perfectly crumbled croissant crust, the dough strong enough to hold under the juice. âSeasonal pastries turn me on a lot more than regular pastries,â Caygill said.
She gets her supplies in part from the abundance of fruit trees in her neighborhood, by asking for fruit on social networks and by offering her pastries as a business. Another standout was an orange glazed cardamom bun, the appeal of which lay in its carefully crafted simplicity. The floral notes of cardamom pair well with the tangy marmalade garnish, providing balance. It’s an elevated take on the Pillsbury Orange Cinnamon Rolls that come out of the box, creating the nostalgia Caygill craves.
At the start of her fourth baking season this fall, Caygill expanded her operation by moving it to her basement and added a part-time employee. She was looking for a showcase to grow her business, but it turned out to be difficult to find something that matched her specific needs, so this idea is on hold. Ultimately, however, she doesn’t mind keeping her operation at home for now, she said, because “we love the feeling of being part of the community.”
Green House Bakery has a first-come, first-served bake sale twice a month, and baking boxes are available for pre-order one Thursday per month. To order a box, visit the bakery website. To learn more about the next cooking, visit Green House Bakery on Instagram.