Marla Bakery: Born to Bake | CUESA

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July 17, 2015

Marla Bakery: Born to Bake

Long before Marla Bakery had a Saturday stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and a storefront in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District, Amy Brown and Joe Wolf fell in love with baking and cooking.

At six years old, Amy created her first Mother’s Day menu, and a couple years later she cooked her first dinner with the help of her Betty Crocker kids’ cookbook. Her love for cooking followed her into her teens, and after college she went to Italy to apprentice with bakers. When she returned to San Francisco, she became a full-time baker and pastry chef. She ran the pastry program and created the brunch program at Nopa, where she met her future husband, Joe.

Like Amy, Joe’s love for cooking began at an early age. He remembers helping his great grandmother prepare kreplauch (soup dumplings) as a child for Jewish New Year. His interest eventually took him to the California Culinary Academy, and then to work at Bix, Foreign Cinema, Michael Mina, Nopa, and Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, where he was head pickler.

After Joe helped Wise Sons co-owners Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom open their brick-and-mortar deli in the Mission, he and Amy were ready to build a place of their own.

“I had said I never wanted to start my own business because I realize how very, very hard it was,” says Amy. “But when I met Joe, it seemed like he was interested in the parts that scared me the most. I was able to handle the stuff he didn’t feel as confident about. We made a good fit, and it seemed more possible.”

Baking with Heart and Soul

An acronym of the first letters of the names of the family members who inspired Amy and Joe to cook, the name “Marla Bakery” speaks to the traditions and values that guide their business. According to Amy, Marla Bakery’s philosophy is “respect, curiosity, and love for what we do.”

The couple started a wholesale bakery in 2013 while they began to look for a brick-and-mortar space. The next year, they found a storage space belonging to a hardware store on Balboa Street, which they renovated and built into a bakery from the ground up, installing a wood-fired stove into the foundation.

“That’s the heart and soul,” says Joe. “Our signature is our wood-fired bread.” The oven occupies the center of the restaurant-bakery, which offers seasonal baked goods made from scratch with fresh ingredients (including herbs grown in their patio garden), along with changing sit-in and take-out menus.

Key Ingredients

At their farmers market stand you’ll find their wood-fired breads, breakfast pastries, English muffins, bagels toasted with house-made farmer’s cheese and smoked fish, and seasonal tarts sold whole or by the slice.

“All of our breads are handmade,” says Amy. “Everything we make we respect throughout the process, always asking ourselves what could be better and how to make it the best that it can be.”

At Marla, what goes into their baked goods is just as important as the process. Seasonality and sustainability play a major role in their business, and Marla uses nearly 100% organic ingredients, including all grains, eggs, and butter and some meats and produce. Marla’s flour comes from Central Milling Co., an employee-owned and-operated organic wheat farming, milling, and baking company based in Petaluma.

Organic ingredients are much more costly than conventional ingredients, but Amy and Joe believe that the difference can be tasted in the finished product. (For example, Straus Family Creamery and Clover Stornetta organic butters are 3 to 4 times the price of conventional butter.)

You’ll find Amy and Joe frequenting many stands at the farmers market for much of their produce: stone fruit from Frog Hollow Farm and Blossom Bluff Orchards, berries from Yerena Farms, and cucumbers from Madison Growers, among others.

Deepening Roots

It’s been a big and busy year for Joe and Amy. They welcomed their first child, Etan Cypress Brown Wolf, last spring and look forward to a opening a second location in the fall. They also got their start as a Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market pop-up vendor earlier this year and now have a permanent stand.

“We’ve always dreamed about being a part of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market,” says Joe. “And now we’re a part of it every weekend.”

The farmers market holds a special place for the couple in the evolution of their personal and professional lives. Throughout their culinary careers, they have frequented the farmers market for the various restaurants they worked for in San Francisco. When they were both at Nopa, they shopped together every Saturday morning. It’s where the idea for Marla Bakery first took shape.

“There is something magical about the Ferry Plaza on a Saturday,” Joe continues. “We feel very fortunate. Even as we expand in the future, our hope is that we can always maintain a stand at that market.”

Look for Marla Bakery in the south driveway at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Amy and Joe, bakery, and scone photos by Ana Valdes.

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CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »