Beth Woulfe Talks About Her Crispian Bakery
A literary baker who loves pies and her bread-loving partner bring a French-inspired take to Park Street.
Beth Woulfe of Part Street’s new Crispian Bakery is living her dream of baking.
Photo by Megan Small
Beth Woulfe and Christian Fidelis de Goes, owners of Crispian Bakery on Park Street, made their dream of opening a French-inspired bakery come true. Now they are making artistic pies, buttery croissants, and Buche de Noels just in time for the holidays and seem to have a golden touch.
How did you and your business partner decide on Alameda?
I rowed on the Alameda/Oakland Estuary for Oakland Strokes when I was in high school, but I had never been to Alameda. It was after college while seeing friends that I first visited the Island. I immediately fell in love with everything about the city and appreciated how ideally situated it is in the Bay Area. I also liked that isn’t too far from my parents in Orinda. But most importantly, I was thrilled to know there was a need for more bakeries in Alameda. Christian and I met while working together at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in New York and reconnected when we were both living in Philadelphia. I knew I wanted to make pastries, and Christian wanted to make bread, so we made a pact to head west and do what we both love under one roof. It worked out really well because Christian wanted to experience a new part of the country, and I was happy to return to my roots, so we developed our bakery concept together with California in mind and here we are. We are thrilled to finally be open and feel very grateful for the support we’ve received from the community. I’ll have to also say that being centrally located on Park Street and having free parking in the back of our store has just been icing on the cake.
Did you always want to be a pastry chef?
Not always. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in food, and in college I wanted to channel my interests towards a job as a food writer. After getting my B.A. from Princeton and writing my senior thesis on the role of food in literature, I became an editorial assistant for a literary agency in New York. As food remained a consistent interest for me, I quit my editorial assistant job and went to culinary school. My first job was at Levain Bakery in New York City where I worked for some wonderful women who were very inspirational to me. They were smart, committed, and full of integrity and taught me invaluable lessons in business, baking, and life in general. I modeled my business plan in part on what I learned there, and I will always feel indebted to them. Bakery work feels so right to me and brings me deep joy.
What have been your best sellers so far?
We have had a really positive response to our croissants. Christian uses a combination of white and whole wheat, as well as a very high-quality butter, which gives his croissant a wonderful, rich flavor. Our ginger cookies have also been a big hit. They are soft and chewy and seem to hit all the right gingery notes. And believe it or not, the humble sticky buns are wildly popular. For the holidays, we are looking forward to making Buche de Noel and pies galore. I love making pies, even though it is a lot of labor. We pride ourselves in a high-quality pie and take the process seriously. Holidays are very fun times for bakeries, and I love getting into whatever the season or occasion might be. We are also very open to special orders year-round and are delighted to take on interesting projects for our customers and love a challenge. And, of course, our coffee bar with coffee from Mr. Espresso has been a tremendous hit. We are expanding our bread selection soon, so it will be interesting to see what becomes a favorite in that category.
Is there a kitchen gadget you couldn’t live without?
I would have to say a small offset spatula. Besides being irreplaceable for applying and smoothing icing, it fits perfectly into a chef’s jacket and is a tool that always comes in handy. But generally speaking, I don’t believe in getting hung up on all the fancy gadgets that are out there. Anything made by human hands, whether it’s humble looking or not, can’t be beat. If you have fresh ingredients, and your heart is in what you’re making, you’re golden. Our baking shouldn’t be an event; it should stay fun and be a pleasurable experience from start to finish.
Tell me how you came up with the name Crispian?
That’s a good question, which has a quirky explanation as many names do. I was an English major in college so I love literary references. Crispian is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Henry V. King Henry, in a bid to reclaim territory in mainland Europe, takes a small force of English soldiers and longbowmen and handily defeats a large French army on St. Crispin’s Day. The play contains one of the most rousing speeches in literature, one that never fails to bring me to tears. As bakers, we work in a predominantly French tradition, so the name was my way of incorporating my love of the English into our bakery.