Bailey’s new bakery manager focuses on made-from-scratch items
Bailey’s General Store has been a staple on Sanibel for more than 100 years, and its bakery – run by Ashley Jennings – is no exception. Jennings took over as bakery manager at the end of March.
With a whole lot of sweet stuff planned for island residents and visitors, Jennings is making more products from scratch, introducing new items and flavors. More of the cookies are made from scratch.
“It’s important for me to have that going on,” she said.
“There’s nothing homier than that,” Jennings said. “I thought it would be nice to have something that was like, ‘Oh, my grandma made this!'”
She loves coming up with different flavors.
“Whatever I’m kind of in the mood for,” Jennings said.
Bailey’s has a different vibe than the Wisconsin grocery store she worked at before.
“There are so many regulars,” Jennings said. “It’s just a different feel. We get a lot of tourists and a lot more locals.”
It is not uncommon for her to hear about families who have been coming to Bailey’s for decades for their morning treats. Jennings recently sent a customer in New York their favorite cookie because they were not able to make it down to the island this year.
“They come every 12 years,” she said.
Seasonal visitors tend to come in and get their treats before they head back home.
“It’s very rewarding to be part of a family-owned store,” Jennings said.
The doughnuts are a top pick. Bestsellers include the sour cream and yeast doughnuts (glazed ring doughnuts). The apple fritters, cake doughnuts and Long John’s are popular, too. The rectangle-shaped yeast doughnut has Bavarian cream or whipped topping in the middle.
“I’m very surprised how many locals come in every day for doughnuts,” she said.
Head baker Jeff Justus, who has been with Bailey’s for 30 years, makes them fresh five days a week. The store carries apple fritters all year, but he makes different flavors in season when it is busier.
“Every day, people come in just for apple fritters,” Jennings said. “Some customers have them set aside for them.”
Sanibel resident Vincent Wolanin has been a customer for 30 years. He loves the Bismarck doughnut – the round jelly- or custard-filled doughnut – and his wife loves the lemon-flavored doughnut.
“The glazed doughnut is good. So is the sour cream. They’re quality doughnuts at a fair price,” he said. “Everything is fresh. They’re made every day from scratch. They don’t have any old stuff out.”
Wolanin credited the bakery for its consistency.
“It’s a place where a lot of people go first thing in the morning,” he said. “If they work on Sanibel or before they’re leaving, they’ll stop in and get something.”
The bakery also offers things like scones, croissants, and mermaid cakes.
“Everyone has their classic flavors and things they come in for everyday,” Jennings said.
She wants to introduce more desserts and types of tarts. Jennings is thinking crme brulee and cream puffs with whipped cream or fruit in the middle. She recently introduced a peanut and chocolate brownie. The key lime cheesecake is popular among their customers, as is an Oreo cheesecake cookie.
“The cookie is pretty sizable,” Jennings said. “It’s a meal in itself.”
She helps come up with the flavors and new ideas. Justus is in charge of staples like Kaiser rolls, hamburger buns and doughnuts. There are two other women on staff at the store’s bakery. One of them has a background in baking and she helps to implement the new recipes Jennings comes up with.
“If I’m like, ‘I kind of want to try something like this,’ she’ll try to do it,” she said.
Most of the recipes that Jennings wants to try are ideas she has had in her head or popular things she used to make for customers up north. For Jennings, before it was a career, baking was more of a hobby.
“Once I find something interesting to me, I try to learn everything I can about it,” she said.
It started with a YouTube video on creating cool icing designs on sugar cookies. Then Jennings was baking things for her family and posting pictures on social media.
“People were like, ‘That’s your first time? That’s really good!'” she said. “Then it turned into asking if I could make things for events and parties.”
The business took off and Jennings baked out of her home for three years. But it was hard to do with a full-time job. She saw a job post for a bakery manager and the rest is history. Jennings thought about opening up her own business, but she always wanted to end up in Florida.
“I always looked on Sanibel,” Jennings said. “I saw that Bailey’s was looking for a cake decorator and I thought, ‘What are the odds?'”
She interviewed in January and moved down in March.
“It was a very fast process, but beyond worth it,” Jennings said. “I fell in love with the island when I came for the first time. There’s no way to describe Sanibel.”
She added that there is not anything more Sanibel than Bailey’s. It has been a hub for islanders since 1899, before many Southwest Florida residents were alive. It even predated the city of Sanibel.
Calli Johnson’s great-grandfather opened the store in 1899.
“There is such a common history here and our story is part of the fabric that has woven Sanibel and Captiva together,” Johnson, who is part of the fourth generation ownership team, said.
She praised Jennings’ traditional bakery training and creativity.
“They provide her with the skills and knowledge to set our bakery apart with quality products that we’ve always been producing and exciting new creations for visitors to see every year to enjoy and be surprised by,” Johnson said.
One of her favorites is the mousse chocolate coffee cup, which consists of a chocolate coffee cup with chocolate mocha mousse inside of the cup. It is also topped with whipped cream.
“There’s so many great things,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to have Ashley and we’re grateful she was willing to move here and develop our bakery.”