Village Mill Bread Company has been a part of the Carmel Valley community for more than 19 years, specializing in fresh and friendly. The bakery’s owners, the joyful husband and wife team of Parker and Sandra Pike, will celebrate their 20-year anniversary in Del Mar Highlands Town Center in 2015 in their brand-new location between Jamba Juice and GameStop.
“This is the most fun we’ve ever had,” Parker said.
In the past six weeks since their move from a site near the former Barnes & Noble, they have seen increased foot traffic. New customers are just finding out what they’re all about, and the old customers express great happiness in finding them again.
“I have customers come in who I’ve known forever, sharing their stories with us,” Sandra said. “If we were in it for the money, we would have left long ago, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the community … the children that came in as little ones eating sugar cookies who now come in and apply for a job.”
In the morning hours, Sandra has her “moms” manning the shop; but in the afternoons, she has her teens whom she loves like they’re her own. She’s sad when they go off to college, but proud she was able to help them learn about customer service and watch them take great care in their work, whether it’s packaging loaves or carefully decorating a sugar cookie.
Opening a bakery was a dream that Sandra didn’t know she had. After being recruited for a job in Wisconsin, she moved there from San Diego. When her brother came for a visit, she took him on a tour of her town. Without realizing it, she had taken him to eight different bakeries, telling him what each did well, what each could improve. Her brother gave her a valuable tip: “You should be doing this.”
When she returned to San Diego, she started scouting places and met Parker, who would become her partner in business and marriage for the next 19 years.
“I kind of knew what she was getting into,” said Parker, who has a background in marketing and who has also taught marketing at UC San Diego Extension for the past 28 years.
“You couldn’t stop me, could you?” Sandra asked.
Working side by side all these years, they have a playful and loving rapport. Each jokingly claims to be the boss — Sandra says Parker is the creative one, and she’s the one who always has to rein him in.
While the bakery has become a part of their marriage, they have sworn not to talk business when they’re at home.
Parker has lived in Carmel Valley for 30 years and the couple now live in a place just six blocks from the bakery. While they don’t come in as early as the baking crew that arrives at 10 p.m. and bakes into the morning, they spend about 16 to 18 hours a day at Village Mill.
“We’re very hands-on, and that’s what’s made it so fun,” Parker said.
The pair loves to be “eyeball to eyeball” with the customers, and said it’s in their DNA to really listen to what the customers want and need — it’s how their business has been able to grow and last.
When Del Mar Highlands launched its recent renovation effort, the management offered Village Mill a space in its newly acquired Beachside Del Mar center on Mango Drive. But the Pikes didn’t want to leave the Highlands. When the Radio Shack space became open, it was offered to them, and they leapt at the chance.
“They have been incredibly helpful and fair with us,” Sandra said of the center management, which allowed them to re-create their business with some special new additions.
The new bakery has a new, more efficient convection oven, a new proof box and walk-in freezers and refrigerators. At the old space, their fridges were stand-alones on wheels, and they were always forgetting where they’d been rolled off to.
Sandra’s favorite thing in the new bakery is the countertop. She got to pick out the granite herself at the slab yard, and it blends all the colors of the shop, from golden yellows and browns to greens.
Hard to believe that Sandra didn’t even know what challah bread was in the beginning — now the braided loaf, which comes in plain, raisin and chocolate chip varieties, is their best-selling bread and the one for which they are most known.
“We sell more challah that any other single bakery in the state,” Parker said.
They make five-pound challahs for bar mitzvahs, and for several years now, they’ve made challah wreaths, ordered by Dr. John Rogers to thank the doctors and nurses during the holidays. This year, they made 91 wreaths to be delivered to Scripps Green Hospital.
Their Pioneer bread is the top seller by loaves — they sell it wholesale to Jimbo’s, Seaside Market and La Costa Farms. It’s a six-grain blend bread with pumpkin, sesame, flax, sunflower and poppy seeds. Their brioche bread is served at the Addison restaurant at the Grand Del Mar.
The bakery’s shelves are loaded with loaves and biscotti, their display cases stocked with tons of muffins and cookies. Each of their monster cookies holds an estimated 40 mini M&Ms.
Sandra’s new favorite pastry is a multigrain cinnamon roll, which she calls “healthy decadence.” She said after 20 years, there isn’t much out there that isn’t a good seller.
Their customers are extremely loyal and effusively complimentary.
“This is by far the best bakery in the world. Not only because everything they make here is superb, but their service, their attention, their welcoming presence is what makes them far superior. Sandra’s the best thing since sliced bread,” said 18-year customer Leslie Wicker. “It’s become an emotional connection, because when you’re sad, you come to Village Mill, and when you’re happy, you come to Village Mill.”
Sandra accepted the compliment with a smile, enjoying the fact that Village Mill’s love for the community is mutual.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sandra said.
Visit villagemillbread.com or call 858-794-4994.