When Susanne Clermont was a child in Texas, her grandfather had a sweet tooth. So whenever his granddaughter had something to celebrate or needed cheering up—any excuse, really—he’d take her out for ice cream. Or pancakes. Or pastry.
“We’d sit and we’d eat and we’d talk,” she says. “It was just great.”
Today, it is that same feeling of connection over delicious food that Clermont strives to achieve at Sandpiper Bakery, the treats-and-coffee shop she opened in downtown Gloucester in June. The white marble counter is stacked with sugar-sprinkled cookies, crusty loaves of bread, and flaky, fruit-stuffed pastries. A pair of chalkboards detail the sandwiches of the day and coffee offerings. And more often than not, Clermont herself can be seen in the kitchen pounding out butter for croissants or preparing filling for pies.
“It’s important for me to create a place where people can commune,” she says, sitting at a small table in one corner of her bakery.
Clermont’s pastry philosophy is all about making simple creations that let the flavors of her ingredients shine. Her daily array of pastriesincludes quiches, galettes, scones, and brioche, all filled with whatever fruits, vegetables, and herbs are in season. When she makes apple pie, she prefers to spice it only with a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg and maybe a pinch of cinnamon.
“If I have a beautiful peach, my job is to create a pastry that says, ‘This is a peach, fresh picked for you,’” Clermont says.
Her journey to Gloucester began when she was a teenager. Her mother’s best friend owned a bakery where Clermont worked behind the counter, getting her first taste of the pastry-making profession. After high school, she followed jobs in the baking business to Boston, and then to Portland, Maine.
“That’s where I really learned how to bake,” she says. “That’s where I really learned the difference between a fresh, local blueberry and a commercially produced one.”
Next she headed to Florence, Italy to spend a year at culinary school and explore the flavors of Europe. She lived away from the tourist-filled city center in a residential neighborhood, in an apartment above a bakery. The shop began its baking at around 3 a.m., and Clermont often smelled the pastries as she walked home at the end of the night, which made her excited to wake up in the morning and buy what she describes as “the most beautiful brioche.”
After returning to Boston, Clermont took a job at the Jamaica Plain bakery Canto 6. Six months later, the owners sold the business to Clermont, who ran the popular bakery for the next eight years.
Then, in 2016, Clermont gave birth to a daughter, and her priorities shifted. She no longer wanted to commute to Boston from the home she and her husband had bought in Ipswich and she realized that keeping a bakery open seven days a week was taking away from time with her baby. She closed Canto 6 and took some time off to focus on her family.
In the months that followed, Clermont had some offers to work as a pastry chef. But she did not want to work for someone else; she wanted to create her own space.
She had harbored a fondness for Gloucester since she lived in Boston and came up to Cape Ann to relax on her days off. She developed a respect for the city’s work ethos, passion, and sense of community, she says. So when she came across an empty former art gallery on the corner of Middle and Center Streets in the heart of the city, she was sold.
Wearing her baby daughter in a chest carrier, Clermont supervised the transformation of the unit from a vacant space with no flooring and no ceiling into a simple, airy, white-walled café.
Today, she is the sole baker at the establishment, arriving at 5:15 most mornings to get the croissants rising and the brioche stuffed and baking. On Mondays and Tuesdays the bakery is closed so Clermont can spend those days with her daughter. On Sundays, her daughter often joins her at the bakery.
Her family, she says, is an integral part of creating a bakery that is not just about sugar and butter, but also about community.
“That’s what gives me joy,” she says.
65 Middle Street, Gloucester