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[whitespace] Shakin' Bake

Kelly's French Bakery is on the rise on the West Side

By Christina Waters

Kelly and Mark Sanchez are on a roll. The couple have moved their baking empire to a smartly updated industrial complex at the corner of Swift and Ingalls, where their entire domain of dough is now under one 12,000-square-foot roof.

Adding to the West Side renaissance, the new Kelly's offers a sleek cafe and Mediterranean-style courtyard for sipping Peet's coffee along with those irresistible pear-ginger scones.

"I knew this part of the West Side was a diamond in the rough," says the entrepreneur.

She and Mark own the multibuilding complex whose tenants include Pelican Ranch Winery, Le Salon Cruz and Terra Nova, among others. Touring the immense interior with its jacuzzi-size mixing machines and ovens the size of studio apartments, I find it hard to believe that all of this started 20 years ago in a tiny pastry parlor behind Pacific Avenue.

"We just got big," Kelly laughs, amazed at her own achievement. Looking much like the 22-year-old she was when she started it all with exquisite pain d'amande and beautiful cakes, Kelly manages the energy to fine-tune an operation boasting mega wholesale accounts and a company of 80 employees.

The new facility shimmers with the delicious aromas of puff pastry, made the old-fashioned way by skillful hands and muscled arms coaxing huge bricks of butter into an elastic fusion with special protein-rich flour. Pallets of flour sacks fill the space where a flour silo will soon be installed. It will hold 75,000 pounds of flour, which will pour through funnels into various vats and mixers.

The hypnotic rhythms of kneading and turning, kneading and turning are probably as old as time. Sourdough starters and doughs rest in spacious silvery refrigerator rooms. Along the far wall are gleaming racks that can be rolled directly into walk-in ovens. No wasted motion. Roll 'em in, bake, and roll 'em out.

Bread is the province of husband Mark, former Chez Panisse chef and the development brains of the operation. The pastry area, smaller and filled with pots of chocolate and tubes of icing, is Kelly's specialty.

"Mark's always done bread, and I do pastries," Kelly explains, taking me through the icy interiors of separate his and hers walk-in refrigerators.

Much of the new facility is devoted to state-of-the-art hardware. Ovens with stone surfaces, fed by aerial conveyors handling focaccia breads destined for Ralph's markets in Los Angeles, share a back wall with kneading and dough-proofing tables. But familiar kitchen equipment also blooms from marble table tops and stainless steel counters. Muffin tins, mixing bowls, wire wisks, cake pans, the venerable tools of baking alchemy. Next to the loading docks, acres of cooling breads fill the back third of the bakery each evening, when Kelly's trucks head out to retail and restaurant locations all over the state. While Kelly still adores the pastry process, breads account for three-quarters of the business. For every strawberry tart and opera cake, there are even more francese rolls, sourdough baguettes and pain de compagne loaves.

"I bought these on eBay," Kelly admits with a chuckle, pointing to a pair of gleaming ovens formerly owned by the L.A. County school system. "I got them for one-eighth the original price."

The new bakery has a tidy employee area with lockers and changing rooms, offices, a pantry and a cozy nook where breakfast and lunch foods are made.

"That's something new we're doing," Kelly says. "We've never done food, and I was concerned at first. It's hard to have it all ready and out at the right time."

Co-workers convinced her to relax. Gorgeous plates of poached eggs and salmon, waffles, fresh soups, salads and fragrant sandwiches have now infused the bakery concept with cafe consciousness. And to-go foods are next on the virtual drawing board. Maybe someday a restaurant joined by Bonny Doon wines?

"I'll probably never be hands-off," she grins from under a tan logo baseball cap. The Aptos store is still humming along. Besides, "Mark wants to expand to San Francisco, and Costco wants any new thing we do. Now they want the crimpys."

Ah, the crimpys. And the raspberry coconut scones, and the dense chocolate mousse cakes.

Kelly's French Bakery, 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz. Open Mon-Sat 6:30am-6pm, Sun 8am-2pm; 831.423.9059.

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From the May 28-June 4, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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