Violet’s Bakery on Partition Street specializes in simple desserts, both sweet and savory, made by hand, not mass-produced.
“We want to bring a piece of the old world here,” owner Sina Clark said. The bakery, located next door to the century-plus old Montano’s Shoe Store, is named after her daughter Violet.
She said the smell of bread, pastries and sweet treats invites customers inside the tiny storefront. She wants to make them feel at home. “I want to make it feel like they’re walking into someone’s kitchen. I think we do a good job of achieving it.”
After being a fixture at area farmers markets for years, Clark opened a physical storefront for Violet’s in March 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing her to close for three weeks at the outset of the lockdown.
She was later able to reopen, and her daughter was usually on premises due to local schools going fully remote.
“She’d sit down and do her school work here at the shop,” Clark said.
Clark would balance helping Violet with her assignments and attending every school meeting with baking tasks like rolling out dough.
“Luckily she did great,” Clark said.
Looking back on the pandemic shutdown that devastated the restaurant industry across the globe, Clark said the slower days gave her time to work on her business, doing her own marketing and perfecting her recipes.
Clark, who has African, Irish, Flemish, French and German roots, loves to look back on old family recipes and across the globe for inspiration for her offerings. The family recipes include her grandma Rita’s potato chip cookies that are both sweet with powdered sugar on top, but with a bit of a crunch from the potato chip.
She said her grandma, who typically cooked Irish and German recipes, entered the cookies in a cooking contest back in the 1930s that was sponsored by a local newspaper.
Clark said she modifies the recipe a bit to suit her likings by removing the nuts. “I don’t really like nuts in cookies,” she said.
She is also working on her mom’s “holiday bread,” a tradition in her household around Christmas. It’s a braided bread with Swiss cheese baked inside, she said.
“My mom baked bread,” Clark said. “We couldn’t afford store bread when my father was getting his PhD in philosophy of education at Rutgers University.” Born in Ohio, Clark grew up in Union County New Jersey.
Clark is also helped by Kim Emerson who only works at the bakery very early in the mornings. “He is our bread baker,” she said.
She also buys baguettes from Catskill Bread, a tiny-one man operation she said is run out of the owner’s house.
Her most popular menu items span the globe including French Galettes and Frangipane with cooked almond filling, sweet and savory scones, lemon pudding and bakery fixtures like muffins and cupcakes. She also bakes a popular gluten-free flourless chocolate cake as well as Cornetti, an Italian croissant made with egg, milk and orange zest. “They are different than French croissants,” she said.
She bakes Bombolone, which she described as being a bit like an Italian donut with orange curd inside. The bakery offers cappuccinos made with beans that are her personal favorite.
“I love researching different recipes, stuff [a customer’s] grandma made when they came from different countries and they haven’t had since they were a child,” Clark said.
Being such a small bakery does come with challenges, she said, offering the example of having to do all her shopping as food-service delivery companies won’t service such a small account. “They have a $750 minimum weekly delivery,” Clark said. “I can’t even fit that much [in] here.”
But she said it also offers advantages as she can pick out everything when she shops, which allows for better quality control. Clark said being small also helps her control inventory and avoid waste.
“If I make something and they don’t sell 12, next time I’ll make eight,” Clark said.
And when Clark runs out she runs out— she wants no waste left behind. And she will only bake things seasonally, so don’t expect a peach pie at Christmas.
“I won’t use peaches out a can,” Clark said.
Clark said she never set out to be a baker, she went to college for film, and hoped to be a screenwriter, but she just never could find the right connections and instead she went into advertising. She moved to Brooklyn, where she lived for more than 14 years,
But just three years into working in advertising the dot-com bubble of the late-90s burst and Clark found herself unemployed and feeling depressed. All along she was making cheesecakes that were a hit among her friends. One of those friends suggested she sell them to restaurants.
Clark said she started going from restaurant to restaurant asking general managers if they were interested. Most told her to scram, but three signed on and she had her first wholesale customers.
She said she went to school for baking and pastry-making at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and she landed an externship at Le Cirque 2000, a new iteration of a well-known Midtown Manhattan restaurant.
Clark later moved on to a small bakery just as it was undergoing an ownership change and she said that’s where she excelled. Moving up the chain from icing cakes and managing to become VP of operations where she worked with a team that helped the bakery expand to Chicago, Lost Angeles and Dubai.
“They’re still growing,” Clark said.
But she grew tired of the city. She started weekending in Saugerties and eventually moved for good in 2011, and began selling wholesale on her own once again.
Clark said she’s grateful for the support people give to her bakery and all the other local businesses in Saugerties. She said she loves to frequent other local small businesses herself.
“They’re all family or women-owned and the owner of the business is working in the store,” she said. “When you go in the owner is behind the counter, I love being part of that.”