Your job is bigger than just you. I learned this working with others for a larger company, and it’s even more apparent now that I own a bakery … Just because my job description involves one arena (baking), that doesn’t mean there won’t be times when major camaraderie is called for. Running any company requires many different skill sets, but the food industry, retail in particular, demands such a rapid pace that is essential to lend a hand wherever possible. I’ve found this even more important in owning a business — building a team you know and trust is hard but essential.
Greg was born and raised in Washington DC, but his fondest childhood memories are from time spent relaxing and baking with his family at Red Gate Farm, their summer home in Nantucket.
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Creative Writing, Greg joined the team at AMC Networks, first as a production intern and later specializing in international development and co-production. Greg was one of the most popular personalities in the office, in large part due to the baked goods he would share with his colleagues on Fridays. After three years of consistent praise, he made the bold decision to pivot and pursue food as a career.
Greg first established Red Gate Bakery as a cottage food business, baking and delivering goods from his apartment in New York City. His creations quickly inspired a cult following, and he began looking into packaging options to ship and share his rustic treats nationwide. However, after going through several trial runs, he determined that the pre-packaged versions had traveled too far afield from his original vision, and so he decided to return to the kitchen. Greg joined the opening team at Flour Shop in late 2017, an experience that gave Greg the confidence to venture out on his own and find Red Gate Bakery a proper brick-and-mortar home. He brought his long-time friend Patricia Howard on board, found a charming corner in the East Village, and the rest was history.
Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to open Red Gate?
Red Gate Bakery is inspired by and named for the idyllic Nantucket farm where I spent summers growing up. We aim to take the feelings of warmth and safety and not only package them, but to update them as well, through modern flavor combinations and techniques. Using high-quality, seasonal ingredients, we seek to evoke a certain warmth in not only our food, but also in our customers.
As I like to say, baking is magic. It’s a kind of alchemy — taking disparate substances that on their own taste, well, bad — but more so when executed properly, baking fosters an atmosphere of comfort unique to itself. The tried and true cliché of “Grandma’s baked goods” exists for a reason! There is a specific safety in a warm cookie, and that’s the feeling we want to evoke when customers step into the bakeshop.
What was it that first drew you to the type of goodies you bake? Can you share a story about that with us?
I grew up baking with my mother — cupcakes for birthdays, her own grandmother’s famous green wreath cookies at Christmas, banana bread on a weekly basis. A love of both food and television led to an addiction to the Food Network, which really served as a basis for my food knowledge. I’d loved the alchemy of baking as a child, the sum of ingredients often distasteful on their own being so much greater than its parts.
At Red Gate Bakery, we take classic baked goods and reimagine them by turning the volume on one or two elements up all the way — like with our Toasted Coconut Banana Bacon Celebration Cake or our Brown Butter Blondies.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a baker? What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
So much of recipe development is just trial and error, but when the right combination of factors get together, that end result is always magic. I love that aspect of my job, even when it gets to be the most frustrating, because the goal is so evident when you reach it. But as for a specific funny moment, I’d never used an 80 quart mixer until my first job in a professional kitchen. I couldn’t grasp how to scrape the bottom of a bowl that big until my manager came over and showed me to just get in there and mix. So, I did as she instructed, only to remember after plunging my entire arm into a vat of cake batter that I had long sleeves on….
What was a challenge you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
It’s trite, but there are too many to count. Starting a business involves so many spinning plates, and I’m very lucky to have had the best help from the best people along the way. The biggest challenge in opening Red Gate, I’d say, was really timing just that: the opening. In an ideal scenario, you’d build your business like a pyramid, steadily stacking brick by brick until you get to the tippy top, place that one final stone, and *boom* you’re open. But in reality, you’re more like a crane holding the entire pyramid — fully assembled — just a few inches off that ground and you can’t let it fall until you open your doors. I was so anxious before actually opening the business because of permits, our buildout, making hires, and so on. Once it came to our first day, though, I could feel all that tension — as my long crane arm could finally relax — melt away. It’’s a struggle each day after that, of course, but just getting started was the biggest obstacle for me so far. I hope there are many more to come!
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Finding balance to create something universally appealing usually comes down to figuring out what people are most familiar with, then putting a twist on it to keep them coming back for more. Luckily for Red Gate, that’s exactly what we do! Updating a chocolate chip cookie with simple things like brown butter and toffee, taking a staid oatmeal raisin cookie and adding a few spices and a glaze on top, injecting our brownies with ribbons of salted caramel — these are all universally beloved items but by changing just one or two things to bump up the volume, you can achieve that perfect balance of old and new.
What is the “perfect meal” for you?
The perfect meal has got to be the perfect combination of flavors, textures, and senses. Starting with something small, bright, and flavorful is a great way to get excited for the rest of the meal, so I always like to use a lot of acid in my food from the get go. Save the heartier fare for the middle of the meal, and — strangely enough — end again on a lighter note. This, of course, doesn’t denote something lacking in flavor or richness, but i’d rather have a small, concentrated burst of chocolate or brown butter at the end of a meal than a giant dessert. And of course, good company doesn’t hurt either…
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
Inspiration is so fickle! It never comes when you’re looking for it, but the good thing is that it’s everywhere. Inspiration for me comes from visual stimulation more often than not. Art, nature, even the occasional baked good — all of these can serve as a great jumping off point for discovering a new flavor combination or decorating technique. The worst part is waiting for inspiration to come!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects right now? What impact do you think they will have?
It’s still such an uncertain time. We’re doing our best to stay active throughout traditional and social media to keep us top of mind. We’ve also been interacting with customers quite a bit online, from sharing recipes and photos to tips and tricks that can help people stay busy when they’re stuck inside. We’ve also made a few donations to hospitals in and around the city, and that’s really been the way we’ve felt most productive. As the climate today becomes our new normal for now, we’re excited to continue to expand on these ideas and adapt accordingly.
What advice would you give to chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think it’s important both now and always to take things a day at a time. I’ve always found myself most productive when I have checklists in front of me, because it gives me a tangible goal to achieve and move on when things are completed. That’s how my brain works. Obviously, running a business has made me think about things in more of a macro way, but one can apply the same logic (in setting real, tangible goals) no matter what time frame exists.
Thank you for sharing your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef”? Could you provide a brief example for each?
- Your job is bigger than just you. I learned this working with others for a larger company, and it’s even more apparent now that I own a bakery. Whether it’s my old post at Flour Shop or especially now at Red Gate, just because my job description involves one arena (baking), that doesn’t mean there won’t be times when major camaraderie is called for. Running any company requires many different skill sets, but the food industry, retail in particular, demands such a rapid pace that is essential to lend a hand wherever possible. I’ve found this even more important in owning a business — building a team you know and trust is hard but essential.
- Be prepared to learn about a whole bunch of things you’d never think you’d do. Part of being a team requires you to sometimes wear many hats. Be open to this part of the job; perspective is very important.
- You will get sick of making the same things over and over — I’ve had jobs where my tasks were incredibly singular, and no matter how much pitching in you do, you can feel a little stifled in the value you provide. This was one aspect of starting my business that I viewed as a major boon. I’m able to control my menu which keeps me excited and stimulated. And, when I feel stretched thin, I can do the opposite and rely on our menu standards. This was always a huge struggle for me at other jobs, and I’m incredibly grateful to have more control over it now.
- Stick around! This job is essential (pandemic notwithstanding), so it’s day in and day out. Holidays, weekends, the whole shebang. Like the above, this is *much* easier when you’re working for yourself, but there’s no denying that it’s a grind!
- Ask for help! Nobody is perfect, and everyone has something to offer. When I’m struggling with something, I rely on my staff and coworkers for their help and advice. It’s a bit of a refrain, but an important one — no one can do it alone!
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit Red Gate Bakery?
Obviously an impossible question, but if blindfolded me threw a dart at a menu I’d say it would land on our brown butter blondies more often than not. They’re gooey and crunchy, salty and caramelized, and really fun to break apart. The fact that they’re terribly addictive definitely did not inform this decision at all…
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Those of us fortunate to find ourselves with extra time on our hands right now should do whatever they can to donate — money, food, time, kindness, you name it. Through the uncertainty of it all is a real camaraderie, I’ve found, and nothing has made me feel better than doing what I love and contributing to a cause that’s bigger than myself. I hope that I’m not the only person who has felt that recently, and I hope that people don’t forget that feeling in a year’s time.