Baker’s Eichler Becomes a Food Cottage

Sarah at door
Sarah Bonar runs a bakery from her Eichler home in Terra Linda, setting out loaves on racks in front of her garage door. A state law allows such 'cottage' food businesses. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Baking bread isn’t just a job for Sarah Bonar, who once ran the bread program at a Michelin-starred restaurant and today churns out loaves and pastries in the garage of her Marin County Eichler.

It’s designed to inculcate into her daughter, three-and-one-half-year old Penelope, the virtues of pursing a calling. It’s to build community among her neighbors, many of them Eichler dwellers, who make up her clientele.

It’s a way to support her needy neighbors as well, low-income workers who live in Marin City and the Canal District of San Rafael. And it’s a way to support causes she believes in, including Black Lives Matter and efforts to fight violence against Asian-Americans.

  Sarah's bread
Sarah's bread achieves its flavor and textures through mostly local, and organic, ingredients. Courtesy of Sarah Bonar

It’s also a way to bring in a few bucks to support her hobby – which is baking.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it,” Sarah says of her business, Lucky Penny Bread. She mixes flour, water, and starter in her garage, slices cookies there too, and bakes in her home kitchen. Wednesday is mixing day, Thursday baking and selling.

Subscribers – many of them neighbors in Terra Linda– pick up their orders from racks in front of her garage.

“I source everything organic and local, or try to as much as possible,” Sarah says. “It’s made just by me. I can say I’m the only person who touches your food.” She uses figs from her backyard as ingredients.

Sarah bakes her breads and pastries in her Eichler kitchen (above), and does the mixing in the garage. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Besides breads of a wide variety, she makes pastries, cakes, and other special orders.

“Since Halloween’s this weekend, I’m doing some cookie boxes, themed sprinkles and things like that, just because there’s a lot of families with younger kids,” she said recently.

Running a cottage bakery is a lot of work, Sarah says.

“Like, on mix day, depending on what other kind of special orders I have, I pretty much work from 9 (a.m.) to 3 straight, and I go pick up my daughter from preschool. And then once she’s gone to bed at 7, I shape all the bread. And that usually takes like another two hours.

“Then Thursday morning, I wake up around 5 or 6. Because people don’t pick up till noon, I have a little bit of time. I’m baking and packing and getting everything ready until like right until I have to pick up my daughter from school.”

Sarah slices cookie dough in her Eichler garage. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Sarah, who bought the Eichler in 2017 with husband Li Shen, says Lucky Penny has “hugely” increased her social circle with neighbors.

“I don’t feel like I would know nearly as many neighbors if I didn’t do this,” she says.

Before Covid, Sarah ran live neighborhood bake sales and mingled with buyers rather than leaving bags of bread for them on an outdoor rack. “So I used to be able to interface with people every day,” she says.

Explaining why she works as a cottage baker, Sarah says:

“I like connecting with people. I like being a part of the community. I like setting an example for my daughter. Yeah.

Sarah, her husband, Li Shen, and daughter, Penelope, spend time in their backyard, where they raise chickens. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“And [baking] is what I did [as a career]. I went to culinary school after I was in the army. I worked in a couple of restaurants as pastry chef, so I definitely missed it after I had my daughter.”

“Baking is my hobby, so you could say that I end up kind of offsetting my hobby costs by being able to sell to people.”

Sarah, whose dad was in the military, grew up near Sacramento, served in the army as a military linguist, and studied at a Sacramento culinary academy on the G.I. Bill. She worked at two San Francisco restaurants run by chef Melissa Perello, Frances and then Octavia. “For both restaurants I developed a bread program,” she says.

When Penelope arrived, Sarah shifted to cottage baking. For a time she was wholesaling to a coffee shop in San Rafael, but decided to cut back.

  Selling from door
Before the Covid pandemic, Sarah had much more personal interaction with her neighbors and other buyers. Courtesy of Sarah Bonar

“I could do more, but it’s a balance of life. I like to be able to have dinner every day. I like to be able to pick up my daughter from school. So taking on much more would interfere with that. And we have a lot of pets, we have chickens, we have dogs and cats, so there’s a lot of responsibilities.”

Sarah has also taken on responsibilities for the wider community. Over the past years she has helped raise $16,000 through cake raffles and other events for such groups as Play Marin, Marin Community Fridge, Black Earth Farms, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

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