Sergio Ramirez walks through the back doors of an old, now-unoccupied primary school, through the cafeteria and to the kitchen, every morning around 4 a.m. He’s there to do what he does best and what he says he fell in love with 30 years ago: Bake.
As the master baker at Braselton Fine Bakery, which had its grand opening in October, Ramirez makes sure there’s fresh bread, pastries and cakes every morning.
“Baking, everything starts so early,” Ramirez said. “I want to make sure the store is full before noon. By 8 o'clock, all the Danishes and croissants are there, still hot, and by 10 o'clock, I’ve got the bread.”
The bakery on Brassie Lane in Braselton only takes up a small space, but its shelves are full of fresh bread — ciabatta, sourdough and simple wheat, all stacked in baskets. The pastry case has cookies, Danishes, croissants, scones, galettes and turnovers along with an assortment of cakes.
Braselton Fine Bakery is owned by Cotton Calf Kitchen, and Ramirez makes all the baked goods for the restaurant — from burger buns to table bread to desserts — while keeping the brick-and-mortar retail shop fully stocked for visitors.
Vincent Price, general manager at Cotton Calf, said he wanted to bring the restaurant’s baking in-house. He’d have better control over the quality while also cutting the cost of having some delivered each week. So when he saw the opportunity to take over Sweet Delights Bakery in Braselton, he and the rest of his team jumped on it, completely rebranding the business.
“We saw there was a need for a bakery in the area that offered French-style Danishes and pastries and things of that nature,” Price said. “And we decided that we would start bringing things in-house, so this was our first attempt.”
Ramirez was the perfect fit to make that happen. He moved to New York in 1989 where he worked at Carlo’s Bakery, from the TV show “Cake Boss,” and Balthazar Bakery, another well-known shop in New York. He moved to the South, met Matt Ruppell, a partner with Cotton Calf, and the two hit it off. Before long, Ramirez was the master baker at the new Braselton bakery.
“I worked in restaurants for about 10 years, but I like baking better,” said Ramirez, who’s originally from Mexico City. “Baking is kind of like chemistry. You have to blend some fats with some drys and sugars and, voila, you can come up with anything.”
But there was a small problem: There wasn’t enough space to do the baking in the actual bakery.
What used to be West Jackson Primary School sits about a half-mile down the road. Ramirez saw it and figured there had to be a kitchen in the school, so they rent the space and now do all the baking out of a place that once held students, teachers and lunchroom workers.
Christmas lights still hang from the ceiling in the lunchroom, which now serves as storage for the bakery. The walls inside the kitchen, along which children used to line up and wait to be served their meal for the day, still have cartoon-like animals painted on them: A camel, pig, kangaroo and others watch as Ramirez mixes ingredients to make dough.
While it’s a job that keeps him busy — Ramirez said he works at least 60 hours each week — he does have some help.
Nikola Foster, a baker working underneath Ramirez and manager at the shop, makes sure everything runs smoothly at the retail spot. She’s been at it since she was 14 years old and said she learned everything on her own.
“Nobody else in my family baked and they all wanted sweets, so I just started doing it,” said Foster.
On top of running the bakery on a daily basis, Foster decorates cakes, which she said is her favorite part of the job. Custom cake orders, which allow her to be creative, come in pretty frequently.
“It’s just what I love to do,” Foster said.
The goal for Braselton Fine Bakery is to eventually provide breads and pastries for many other restaurants. Right now, though, Price said it’s testing things out and establishing itself within the community, something it seems to be doing a good job at.
The bakery was recently at a farmer’s market and sold clean out.
“We wanted to be approachable,” Price said. “Even though we have a wholesale division, we wanted to have a retail spot so people can get to know us … With the retail spot, you can come in, buy a Danish, buy a cookie or a cake and see what we’re about.”
Braselton Fine Bakery
Where: 84 Brassie Lane, Braselton
When: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday