Trays of brown butter tarts, fresh fruit-filled galettes, and brioche cradling soft-boiled eggs and crispy slices of bacon beckon from atop a bar where patrons used to order cocktails at Angelino Restaurant, an old-school Italian spot in Sausalito. Now, a line of customers, each staring longingly at treats on the other side of the Plexiglass divider, winds through the dining room, the nutty scent of butter filling the air. The two mask-wearing women behind the counter seem to be on a first-name basis with everyone, laughing with customers and asking after their kids. The intimacy is palpable — even more so for the fact that it was largely absent during the socially distant days of 2020.
This pop-up bakery, called Pastry Bar, is one of many manifestations of a business that’s served the Sausalito community with far more than traditional sustenance. The spirit with which its owners form connections through flaky croissants and sugar-dusted bomboloni while prioritizing the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees is one to look toward as the restaurant industry at large seeks a more equitable future.
Long before the inception of Pastry Bar, the best baked goods in Sausalito were found at Cibo, a café run by Tera Ancona. Ancona, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, began her career at One Market and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, before stepping back from baking to start a family. In 2009, after her children entered elementary school, she opened Cibo with her husband, Alfredo, the executive chef and co-owner of Angelino. For 10 years, Cibo thrived as a North Bay community staple for quality pastries and coffee. At the time, Blue Bottle Coffee wasn’t yet a household name, nor did they deliver, so Tera drove to Emeryville early in the mornings to pick up pounds of coffee in her minivan with her children.
Then, in September 2019, Tera accepted Equator Coffees’ offer to purchase Cibo so she could spend time with her spouse as an empty nester. For a year she worked closely with Equator, transitioning to wholesale baking and signing on to provide pastries to Equator alongside several other businesses. But six months later the coronavirus emerged, and in 24 hours, Tera’s fledgling wholesale business lost every account. Her sister-in-law, Teresa Ancona, Angelino’s general manager and co-owner, had a solution: “We’re just going to roll open the garage door and sell pastries,” Teresa told Tera.
And they did.
On March 18, 2020, Tera and Teresa opened a bakery drive-thru in the parking lot of the industrial kitchen where Tera bakes with her staff of seven women — four of whom are mothers, one of whom was on maternity leave. Teresa reconfigured the bakery’s payment platforms, working both behind the scenes and as a makeshift cashier. Though the Anconas describe those early days as exhausting, they both felt leaving their employees without jobs was out of the question. “Two of [my bakers] are married to people who work in the industry,” Tera says. “There was no work for their spouses so [these women] became the sole breadwinners. I couldn’t not have work for them.” By keeping her staff employed, she not only kept them paid but also ensured they had continued health insurance.
The bakery’s industrial kitchen is located just outside Sausalito’s wealthy tourist neighborhood, in a town where the pandemic intensified a deficit in healthful and affordable food. Due to safety concerns, the local grocery store stopped accepting cash, a policy Teresa says can have a negative impact on certain communities. “There are a lot of people on fixed incomes, people living below the poverty line, people who are here not legally whose transaction base is cash,” she says. To accommodate these customers, the bakery accepts all forms of payment — cash, Venmo, credit-card, Square, even promises to pay upon a subsequent visit — as a per of her commitment to feeding as many people as possible.
To balance the community’s needs with those of her bakers, Tera runs her business “like a nonprofit,” she says, a philosophy that’s possible because of the safety net she built from the sale to Equator and because she’s self-owned and has repeatedly chosen not to have investors. All tips go directly to her bakers. Since four of the women are also juggling pandemic-era parenthood, Tera decided that whoever works the fewest hours gets the highest percentage of tips.
In the drive-thru location, their client base was primarily people living on fixed incomes, elderly folks, and residents on houseboats who needed essential food, so Alfredo prepared sandwiches and gallons of soup while Tera made crackers, which are addictively crisp and flecked with coarse sea salt. They sold these staples alongside Tera’s beloved pastries to provide affordable nourishment. For almost 12 weeks, they were a light in the darkness. Then, due to permit issues, they were shut down by the health department.
But for the Anconas, shutting down the bakery was never an option. The family restaurant, Angelino, had transitioned to take out, so Teresa suggested they reopen as the Pastry Bar, taking over the place where Angelino previously sold liquor. Within 24 hours, Teresa redesigned Angelino’s website, allowing customers to order pastries online and facilitating curbside pick-ups. Tera constructed Plexiglass dividers and set out mixed berry galettes, almond claws, and old-fashioned cinnamon rolls. When they opened the next morning, there was already a line of people.
“This is a community of people we feed,” said Teresa. “Not just in terms of food, but in terms of socialization.” At Angelino, the Pastry Bar specializes in pastries, but continues the tradition of providing safe harbor to a community facing uncertainty. One of their busiest days fell in September when the sky turned tangerine from the wildfires. “People were kind of in a tailspin,” Teresa says. They came to the Pastry Bar for the same reason they still do: to see familiar faces, to procure homemade baked goods, and to be asked how they’re doing.
Time and again, the Ancona women have shifted to meet the moment. Recently, Teresa did away with a 30-year tradition of white tablecloths at the restaurant her parents built to offset the cost of providing face masks to her employees and to residents who need them. To Tera and Teresa, people — not profits — are everything: “[Their support] made it feel like we were getting through this together. All the little drops in the bucket helped us emotionally and financially. Now we’re just going to keep going.”