Wondrous Bread Makers

Fall 2016 | By Gregory Shook for The College

Chris Simmons and Lucy Montgomery share a family moment with their two daughters in their shop's kitchen.
Chris Simmons and Lucy Montgomery share a family moment with their two daughters in their shop's kitchen. | Photo by Sarah Culver (AGI11)

With the rise in popularity of gluten-free diets and increased public interest in lowering carbohydrate consumption, bread has taken it on the chin lately.

Flying in the face of these culinary trends, Chris Simmons (A97) and Lucy Montgomery (A98) opened a small business making fresh-baked bread, cookies, pastries, and other delectable treats from scratch.

The shop was a hit from the start.

The married couple runs Bakers and Co., a European-style café perched on a bustling corner in the heart of Eastport, Maryland—Annapolis’ quirky neighbor across Spa Creek. Simmons says the secret to great bread boils down to three simple ingredients: water, flour, salt. What about yeast?

“For some crazy reason, I insist on making most of my sourdough bread naturally, so not adding commercial or instant yeast, which adds a whole other layer of planning,” says Simmons. “I have to make decisions two days in advance to have my starter ready to go when I need it.”

Simmons and Montgomery are both self-taught, so they’ve had to figure out the art of baking largely on their own.

“Sometimes you take the longer way to learn something and, at times, be a little too rigorous. But in the long run you learn it far more profoundly,” says Montgomery.

Bakers & Co. sits in Eastport, a community in Annapolis.
Bakers & Co. is located in Eastport, a community in Annapolis. | Photo by Sarah Culver (AGI11)

“I’m constantly on a learning curve,” adds Simmons. “It takes several days to figure out a mistake.”

The couple insists on high standards, even if it requires more time and effort.

“Taking shortcuts in baking is reflected in the quality of the food,” says Montgomery. “You taste it.”

“We’re tough critics,” adds Simmons. “When we try to learn something, we’re not happy with it until we’re really happy with it.”

A few years into baking, the couple took a busman’s holiday to Norwich, Vermont for an intensive week-long class at the King Arthur Flour Company, a veritable mecca for bakers and bread lovers. It wasn’t until later, though, that Simmons realized his classic French breads instructor was “one of the most serious bread makers in the country.”

While Simmons and Montgomery are celebrating the shop’s four-year anniversary this Thanksgiving, their story actually begins nearly a decade ago, when Montgomery decided on a whim to try her hand at making bread at home. She found her calling.

A few weeks later, Montgomery traveled to England to visit a sick relative. While there, her aunt took her out to dinner at a London restaurant known for its bread.

At the time Montgomery and Simmons were at a crossroads: she was exploring business school, and Simmons, who learned about running a small business through his years working at the old Smoke Shop in Annapolis, was considering a shift to architecture.

Bakers & Co. offers a variety of delectable treats.
Bakers & Co. offers a variety of delectable treats. | Photo by Sarah Culver (AGI11)

During dinner with her aunt, Montgomery, eager to sample the restaurant’s much-lauded bread, discovered that she actually preferred her own homemade creations. Sensing her niece’s newfound enthusiasm for baking, Montgomery’s aunt urged her to forget about business school and start a business.

Her advice paid off.

With just their hands and a few basic tools, Simmons and Montgomery began baking bread free-form at their Eastport home, usually two loaves at a time, experimenting with different types and sharing it with friends. The couple then lucked into an opening spot at a local farmer’s market.

“The timing was perfect,” says Simmons. “I don’t know how that happened. There’s a three-year waiting list.”

On their first day at the market, they arrived with a card table, a tablecloth, 17 loaves of bread, and a small basket, not quite sure what to expect.

“[The bread] was gone in forty-five minutes,” recalls Simmons, with wide-eyed astonishment. “Then we thought, ‘what have we just done? They’re all going to come back next week.’”

Fueled by their initial success, the young bakers—who put in many hours of baking and prep time per week on top of their full-time jobs—returned the following week armed with 22 loaves. Again, they sold it all.

With Bakers and Co., Simmons and Montgomery are proud to be part of what she calls “the mom-and-pop store revival.” Unlike corporate chain stores, Bakers and Co. keeps limited hours and is closed two days a week. However, the work never stops.

“I’m busy those two days to get things going, to prepare for the other five days in the week,” says Simmons. “There’s not a day that I’m not there.”

The couple is also busy raising their two young daughters.

“I’ve got to get home to make supper,” says Montgomery, who also manages the shop’s administrative duties. “That’s what a mom- and-pop is.”

Word of mouth helped the business grow and bring in new customers.

“Our location is very specifically a neighborhood bake shop, but we get customers from many miles away, from huge distances,” says Montgomery. “It’s kind of a Cheers thing, where you know everyone’s names, and people can talk with one another. People desperately want to belong to a community, and they like the idea of a family bakery. It’s nice to connect with people and have a community. Our shop fits that.”

Learn more about the couple’s family bakery at bakersandco.com.