Two self-taught bakers named Cheryl and Griffith Day set out to open a bakery in Savannah in August, the hottest month of the year in this coastal Georgia town. Along with a few dance moves she picked up from her days as a Soul Train dancer, Cheryl brought to the enterprise her enthusiasm for the time-honored art of scratch baking. Griffith (or Griff as his wife calls him) added his pioneering spirit and his mastery of bread baking to the mix. A decade later, they have pooled their talents once again to write their first cookbook, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.
So tell me, Cheryl, how did you and your husband, Griffith, come to open your bakery in Savannah? Is that your hometown?
No, I grew up in Los Angeles, but my mother was from Alabama.
So you have a Southern connection.
Yes. I spent every summer with my grandmother in Alabama, learning how to bake. She was an excellent Southern baker—in my opinion, one of the very best. What stuck with me was the feeling I had when I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. When we opened Back in the Day Bakery 10 years ago, Griff and I wanted to create an environment where people would feel comfortable, as comfortable as if they were at home. Our bakery has a nostalgic kind of vibe, I would say, like my grandmother’s house with a modern twist to it.
In your book, you talk about how the bakery has become a community. Did you set out to make it that way?
We did. We chose our location in the Starland District of Savannah because we didn’t want to be in a touristy part of town. It’s centrally located to many neighborhoods, and 10 years ago, it was still in transition. People from all walks of life came into the bakery to see what we were all about. When they tasted our cinnamon buns and our cupcakes and saw that it was just good, old-fashioned home cooking, they embraced us.
When Griff and I opened the bakery, we literally ran it by ourselves for the first year. Thinking back, that seems kind of crazy. But it gave us the opportunity to get to know our neighbors and the community. Those same customers still come into the bakery to this day. That’s how we built a loyal customer base.
We had a moment of clarity about the community we had built when my sister, Natalie, who worked with us, passed away suddenly. At first, we really didn’t know how we could go on. The entire neighborhood came to her funeral. When that happened, we realized that we were more than just a neighborhood bakery. We were a part of this community, and we needed to continue for them. We don’t forget those people who supported us.
Did you name your bakery Back in the Day because it has that comfortable feeling you were going for?
The name of the bakery is actually a play on words, since our last name is Day.
So what’s on the menu at Back in the Day Bakery?
We bake old-fashioned Southern treats like hummingbird cake, carrot cake, and vanilla butter cake with buttercream frosting. We make everything from cookies and brownies to lemon bars. We really don’t try to reinvent anything. We don’t make crazy flavors. Our recipes are familiar, but with a small twist. Our chocolate-chip cookies are sprinkled with a little bit of fleur de sel. One of our best sellers is our Lavender Shortbread Cookies. People try them out of curiosity, and then they fall in love with them.
What do you enjoy baking the most?
Right now, I am obsessed with making pies. That was one of my grandmother’s specialties, and my mom made the most perfect flaky piecrust. We’ve included an old-fashioned flaky piecrust in our cookbook, but then we also have a recipe for a shortcut piecrust. It’s a press-in crust that has the flaky texture of a rolled crust. It’s awesome for anyone who’s timid about making piecrust. At the bakery, we sell our pies only by the slice. That’s because we want people to sit down and have a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. With the times we’re living in, people come into our bakery for a dose of comfort, and I can’t think of anything better than pie and coffee. People say it just makes their day.
And what are your favorites on the menu?
I love a chocolate-chip cookie at the end of the day. To me, ours is perfection—sort of crisp around the edges and chewy in the center, with gooey chunks of chocolate. I really still love a piece of chocolate cake; that’s kind of the ultimate for me. I think you could almost bring world peace with chocolate cake.
Our chocolate cake, which we call Chocolate Heaven, is based on my grandmother’s recipe. It’s my absolute favorite to this day. When I used to make it with my grandmother, we did it old school; we mixed it by hand. It can be done by hand, it can be done with a hand mixer, or it can be done with a stand mixer. To me, every home baker needs to know how to make a perfect chocolate cake, and this is the best I’ve ever tasted.
I understand that you and Griff got married in a rather unusual way. Would you like to share that with our readers?
I would love to tell you about it. Throughout the year, we’re busy, busy, busy bakers, but every August, we take a vacation from the bakery. This particular year during our vacation, we got our marriage license, but we couldn’t find time to get married. Judge Lewis, the judge who issued our marriage license, happened to be a regular customer of ours. When the bakery reopened after our vacation, he came in to congratulate us. We had to admit that we hadn’t gotten around to getting married yet. So the judge said, “I have my robe and the vows in my car. Why don’t we do it now?” My sister grabbed some flowers from a vase, and I yelled to Griff, who was on the lunch line, “Hey, Griff, we’re getting married now.” Next thing you know, we’re standing in front of the bakery cases, getting married in our aprons. We got married right there because we were just that in love. I do believe Griff owes me a fancy party down the road.
Did anyone have a camera? Do you have any wedding pictures?
Yes, one of our customers grabbed her camera and made a picture, and this being Savannah, it ended up in the newspaper. To this day, customers come into the bakery and say, “I was at your wedding!” I just think, “Is that how we really got married?” Yes, that’s how it happened.
Who do you think should buy The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook? Whom did you write it for?
It’s for everybody from the home baker who dreams of opening her own bakery to someone with a family who wants to learn how to create food memories for her children. Griff and I are passionate about keeping the art of scratch baking alive. I’m so excited to have this book coming out. I really think it’s going to have a broad audience. Even people who are professional bakers might learn something from it.
I hope people are going to love this book as much as we loved writing it. It’s really authentic. We’re not trying to be something that we’re not. We’re just a couple of home bakers who decided to follow our passion, and we actually did it. Griff and I wanted to live a creative life, and that’s why we decided to take the plunge.