Pie crimes and misdemeanors
By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent
Dawn Zaft felt like a criminal.
She owns Criminal Baking Co., a business she started earlier this year and operated in her kitchen while waiting for the permit to come through. Thus the name, which she kept after the paperwork arrived, now referring to the baked goods she calls “criminally delicious.”
This week she also will start selling them from her own bakery in Santa Rosa’s South of A arts district.
Zaft decided to start the company after being laid off from her job with a local nonprofit in January. She also was taking time off from classes at Berkeley’s Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, where she had been a fourth-year student.
“I decided to pull on my roots as a baker,” said Zaft, whose first job as a teen was at a bakery. “I also really wanted to put my time and energy into doing something I loved.”
She believes her new business draws on her background in multiple disciplines, including herbalism. A certified herbalist, she infuses unique flavors into her ingredients.
“I like incorporating things like rose, jasmine green tea or lavender, out-of-the-box flavors, into what I cook,” said Zaft, 35. “It’s kind of like I get to be a mad scientist in the kitchen.”
In July, she approached Redwood Cafe in Cotati as a potential distributor for her baked goods. They agreed, and she now has seven accounts in Sonoma County and two in Marin.
“I admire Dawn’s commitment to her new business (because) it’s just that, total and absolute commitment,” said Michael McCullaugh, one of the Redwood Cafe’s owners. “This, coupled with her tireless dedication, will surely be the recipe for a huge success.”
Zaft created an online Indiegogo fundraiser called the “Pie Campaign” in August, in which she offered pre-order deals on pies as a way to generate income for her new endeavor.
“I really wanted to open a storefront so I could have a direct community connection,” she said. The downtown bakery will serve home-cooked paninis, soups and salads, along with the rest of her regular bakery items. “The goal is to be as seasonal and local as possible.”
Zaft draws her ingredients from local distributors like Laguna Farm in Sebastopol and a Central Milling distributor in Petaluma.
“I’ve gotten to meet some amazing people who are all complete food nerds,” she said. “I call the local business owners my ‘accomplices.'”
Currently, Zaft is taking holiday pre-orders for her apple crumb pie and organic pumpkin pie. Some of Criminal Baking Co.’s best-sellers are vegan, gluten-free and organic. Her vegan banana bread is both a personal and customer favorite.
“Dawn puts so much love, passion and effort into it, making everything she creates something special,” said McCullaugh. “They cater to almost everybody’s dietary requirements and are also very appealing to the eye, which makes our customers unable to resist.”
A second part of Zaft’s business will incorporate local art and food distributors.
“I’m really into the idea of business incubation, specifically local food business incubation,” she said. She plans to rotate the work of “house” artists and is looking for people who sell locally made food products and herbal body care supplies to stock on her shelves.
“I get to be really experimental,” said Zaft. “Having my own company and being able to create my own products — it’s my art.”
The Criminal Baking Co. & Gallery will have a grand opening in January, but will initially open on Saturday during the South of A district’s “WinterBlast,” the annual street festival hosted by the entire community of South of A.
“I want them to feel like it is a place they can come to relax and enjoy a really home-cooked good meal or treat,” said Zaft. “But also a place they could come to experience local culture.”
Criminal Baking Co. is located at 463 Sebastopol Ave., 992-5661, criminalconfectionery.com. It will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.