Karen Fong, who shares with Setrakian a lifelong love of baking from childhood and a desire to become deeply engaged with the 94941 community, is opening Mill Valley Baking Co. at 17 East Blithedale Ave. this summer.
In unanimously approving Fong’s application to open in the former Noci space, the Planning Commission lauded the arrival of a bakery in town and gave Fong the green light to open as early as 5:30am to match the hours of other pastry- and coffee-serving shops like Equator and Peet’s.
“I am very excited to see this go in because it looks fantastic,” said Commissioner Greg Hildebrand. “I’m very much looking forward to this.”
Despite commission approval, Fong is still in the midst of the permitting process as she awaits sign-off from the County of Marin’s Environmental Health Services division and then final permits from the city.
While much work is ahead of her, Fong teased a menu that includes:
Croissants (Butter, Chocolate, Almond), Bear Claw, Morning Bun, Fruit/Cheese Danish, Bagels (Plain, Sesame, Poppy Seed and more flavors upon request), Breads (English Muffin, French Sweet Baguette, Rye, Bread, Honey Wheat Bread, Focaccia), Scones (Cranberry, Orange, Blueberry Lemon, Strawberries & Cream), Biscuits (Buttermilk Bacon Cheddar, Cheddar Thyme), Muffins (Banana, Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Almond), Cookies (Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, Snickerdoodle) Biscotti, as well as Espresso & Drip Coffee Water and Juices.
But while that was more than enough to get your attention, Fong’s journey to this moment is riveting.
“I’ve baked all my life,” she says, pointing to her father Sunny Fong’s decades-long work as a line cook in Berkeley. “He taught all four of us kids how to cook. He went to work at 2am, so when he got off, he was exhausted, so he’d come home and put us to work for him, giving us instructions. We were basically his kitchen help – he had his own assembly line at home. One marinated meats, the other cooked over the stove or meat into the oven and manned the timer, another set the table, and the last washed dishes.”
Before Fong headed down the baking-as-profession path, she graduated with a computer science degree and became a software engineer and later a project manager at none other than Apple Inc., where she remained for more than 13 years. She took time off for maternity leave and later resigned as her husband battled cancer, and eventually decided that the time was right to go to San Francisco Cooking School, focusing on baking both sweet and savory.
Fong says she picked up a “middle of the night work ethic” from her father, often baking brownies and cupcakes as a helpful tool “to push the engineers to meet their deadlines,” she says with a laugh. – “Baking has always been my thing.”
Fong, who lives in San Francisco, has worked at A16 in San Francisco on both the savory and dessert side and later realized baking was still where she found the most comfort and ease. She then moved on to be a baker at Cavallo Point Lodge. In her time baking in the middle of the night at Cavallo, she decided that the next place she baked at would be working for herself.
“Cavallo has been my training ground,” she says.
Fong had been looking for a space in San Francisco and elsewhere for more than a year when a friend suggested a Mill Valley visit. They happened upon the former Noci space and Fong knew it was a great fit.
“I’m really excited to open and working hard to get through the process,” Fong says.